Remote Control Rodent ‘Ratbots’ Pass First Tests


A woman standing on a table, clutching a broom and screaming, “it’s a rat!” has become a cliché image in our society. But what if that live rat was directed via remote control like something out of a bad science fiction movie?


Exclusive to American Free Press

By Mike Finch


Researchers at SUNY Downstate Medical Center, Brooklyn N.Y., have developed technology that allows them to control a rat’s actions from up to 600 yards away with implants placed in its brain.

Rats can be made to run, jump or climb, following instructions they receive by radio from a laptop computer. Clacking keys on a computer send these “ratbots” climbing trees, winding through mazes, or searching through building rubble.

The remote control rats look like school children, wearing small backpacks that house microprocessor-based remote-controlled stimulators. Wires connect the backpack to tiny probes that have been placed into areas of the rat’s brain that are responsible for reward and areas that process signals from their whiskers. The rats are controlled by manipulating these two areas of the brain.

Remote-control rats are weird enough. But even stranger is the possibility that the technology could eventually find its way into humans.

“Our discovery grew out of ongoing research into the development of thought-controlled prosthetic devices for spinal chord injury,” said John K. Chapin, Ph.D., research partner of Sanjiv Talwar, M.D., Ph.D.

The brain implants have already enabled rats to move robotic arms by thought alone.

With testing being done on primates, some worry that this technology could eventually be used to control humans.

“Could it be used, Big Brother-style, to control human behavior, consumer spending, or even worker productivity?” asked the Humane Society in a recent article.

“What if some future implant, billed as a medical miracle, was also secretly encoded to direct thought, getting a person to think like Big Brother, or to work harder for managers at corporate control, or to follow the orders of Mephistopheles?” asked The Boston Globe in a recent editorial. “What if Madison Avenue got a piece of the supposed beneficial chip to direct the consumer to buy the expensive spread or the new cereal?”

The research is being funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects agency, an experimental subdivision of the U.S. military.

Right now, researchers hope this technology could assist in “search and rescue” efforts by way of remote rat to find humans in rubble, identify landmines and other critical uses, though outsiders worry that these rats could be used for intelligence purposes, or even to carry explosives into restricted areas.

The rats would be much more adept at navigating over rough terrain than robots, and could navigate through chaotic situations with ease.

“The rat has rather sophisticated navigational skills,” said Dr. Chapin, “It makes sense to make good use of the animal’s abilities.”

“A search-and-rescue dog costs $60,000 dollars a year to maintain, and you cannot use them in very tight spaces,” said Dr. Chapin, “nor could you use a dog to discover land mines, since the weight of the animal would detonate the explosive. A rat, however, being small and light, could sit on the mine without exploding it, making it possible to identify its location and dispose of it safely.”

This kind of experimentation is not alone. Miguel Nicolelis of Duke University is conducting collaborative studies with monkeys by putting implants in their brains that allow them to control robotic arms. Also, Yale physiologist Jose Delgado partially controlled a bull by way of a brain implant. And Northwestern University researchers made a two-wheeled robot that was partially controlled by a lamprey eel brain.