By Pratima Harigunani
World's first ever Cyborg, Professor Kevin Warwick, Department of Cybernetics, University of Reading, is just six to eight years away from another implant, this time a brain implant.
This experiment would be in the area of bi-directional communication. Currently the investigation process is on for brain-computer links, in particular an implant into the brain, which acts bi-directionally.
As Warwick tells, "This probably will mean retraining neurons within the brain to alter their basic functioning. The main reason here would be for bi-directional communication. Clearly this is different to space projects. I believe it is far more important as it really changes what it means to be human."
In the year 1998, Professor Kevin Warwick and his team at the department of Cybernetics, University of Reading had underwent an operation to surgically implant a silicon chip transponder in his forearm that allowed a computer to monitor him as he moved through halls and offices of the Department of Cybernetics using a unique identifying signal emitted by the implanted chip and also allowed him to operate doors, lights, heaters and other computers without lifting a finger.
The second phase of the experiment Project Cyborg 2.0 got underway in March 2002 with an aim of studying how a new implant could send signals back and forth between Warwick's nervous system and a computer.
His team is presently busy with the rat brain project, a biological robot controlled by a blob of rat brain created by the scientists. The project is at an interesting turn as it moves on to study memories vis-à-vis brain.
"We are now about to investigate how memories manifest themselves in the brain – hopefully this will give us some leverage in dealing with Alzheimer's disease," shares Warwick.
The project entails a wheeled machine wirelessly linked to a bundle of neurons kept at body temperature in a sterile cabinet while signals from the "brain" allow the robot to steer left or right to avoid objects in its path.
Similar experiments about developing robots with living brains made from cultured cells are underway with other scientists across the world too like the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, US and the SymbioticA Fish And Chips project or the 'whiskered' rat robot project on touch technology by at multinational BIOTACT project, with research teams like Weizmann Institute of Science's Neurobiology Department.
Professor Kevin Warwick who pioneered the merging of biology and robotics by conducting the first "cyborg" experiments on him is upbeat about this one. "The rat brain project is presently extremely successful – we are able to grow a brain of 100,000 brain cells and we have it driving a robot around".