From the archive, originally posted by: [ spectre ]
AND OTHER EXTRAVAGANCIES
“Acoustic Kitty was a CIA project launched in the 1960s attempting to
use cats in spy missions. A battery and a microphone were implanted
into a cat and an antenna into its tail. Due to problems with
distraction, the cat’s sense of hunger had to be removed in another
operation. Surgical and training expenses are thought to have amounted
to over 10 million British pounds.
The first cat mission was eavesdropping on two men in a park outside
the Soviet compound on Wisconsin Avenue in Washington, D.C.. The cat
was released nearby, but was hit and killed by a taxi almost
immediately. Shortly thereafter the project was considered a failure
and decided to be a total loss.”
Chinese scientists experiment with remote control of animals
February 27, 2007
Chinese scientists said they have succeeded in an experiment to
remotely control the flight of a pigeon with electronic technology.
Scientists with the Robot Engineering Technology Research Center of
east China’s Shandong University of Science and Technology say they
implanted micro electrodes in the brain of a pigeon so they can
command it to fly right or left or up or down.
The implants stimulated different areas of the pigeon’s brain
according to signals sent by the scientists via computer, and forced
the bird to comply with their commands.
It’s the first such successful experiment on a pigeon in the world,
said the chief scientist Su Xuecheng.
The electronic signals resemble the signals generated by the brain
which control body movement, said Su.
Su and his colleagues are improving the devices used in the experiment
ahd hope that the technology can be put into practical use in future.
Su conducted a similar successful experiment on mice in 2005.
Stealth sharks to patrol the high seas
BY Susan Brown / 01 March 2006
IMAGINE getting inside the mind of a shark: swimming silently through
the ocean, sensing faint electrical fields, homing in on the trace of
a scent, and navigating through the featureless depths for hour after
We may soon be able to do just that via electrical probes in the
shark’s brain. Engineers funded by the US military have created a
neural implant designed to enable a shark’s brain signals to be
manipulated remotely, controlling the animal’s movements, and perhaps
even decoding what it is feeling.
That team is among a number of groups around the world that have
gained ethical approval to develop implants that can monitor and
influence the behaviour of animals, from sharks and tuna to rats and
monkeys. These researchers hope such implants will improve our
understanding of how the animals interact with their environment, as
well as boosting research into tackling human paralysis.
More controversially, the Pentagon hopes to exploit sharks’ natural
ability to glide quietly through the water, sense delicate electrical
gradients and follow chemical trails. By remotely guiding the sharks’
movements, they hope to transform the animals into stealth spies,
perhaps capable of following vessels without being spotted. The
project, funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency
(DARPA), based in Arlington, Virginia, was presented at the Ocean
Sciences Meeting in Honolulu, Hawaii, last week.
Neural implants consist of a series of electrodes that are embedded
into the animal’s brain, which can then be used to stimulate various
functional areas. Biologist Jelle Atema of Boston University and his
students are using them to “steer” spiny dogfish in a tank via a
phantom odour. As the dogfish swims about, the researchers beam a
radio signal from a laptop to an antenna attached to the fish at one
end and sticking up out of the water at the other. The electrodes then
stimulate either the right or left of the olfactory centre, the area
of the brain dedicated to smell. The fish flicks round to the
corresponding side in response to the signal, as if it has caught a
whiff of an interesting smell: the stronger the signal, the more
sharply it turns.
The team is not the first to attempt to control animals in this way.
John Chapin of the State University of New York Health Science Center
in Brooklyn has used a similar tactic to guide rats through rubble
piles (New Scientist, 25 September 2004, p 21). Chapin’s implant
stimulates a part of the brain that is wired to their whiskers, so the
rats instinctively turn toward the tickled side to see what has
brushed by. Chapin rewards that response by stimulating a pleasure
centre in the rats’ brains. Using this reward process, he has trained
the rodents to pause for 10 seconds when they smell a target chemical
such as RDX, a component of plastic explosives.
The New York Police Department is considering recruiting Chapin’s rats
to its disaster response team, where they could be used to detect
bombs or even trapped people, and Chapin met them to discuss the
possibility last month.
However, Chapin’s “mind patch” only works in one direction: he can
stimulate movement or reward an action, but he cannot directly measure
what the rat smells, which is why he has to train them to reveal what
they are sensing. DARPA’s shark researchers, in contrast, want to use
their implant to detect and decipher the different patterns of neural
activity that indicate the animal has detected an ocean current, a
scent or an electrical field. The implant sports a small pincushion of
wires that sink into the brain to record activity from many neurons at
once. The team plans to program a microprocessor to recognise which
patterns of brain activity correlate with which scents.
Atema plans to use the implants to study how sharks track chemical
trails. We know that sharks have an extremely acute sense of smell,
but exactly how the animals deploy that sense in the wild has so far
been a matter of conjecture. Neural implants could change all that.
“You get much better information from a swimming shark than from an
anaesthetised animal that is strapped down,” says Atema. “It could
open up a whole new window into how these animals interact with their
At the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology, Tim Tricas is using the
implant to investigate what information scalloped hammerhead sharks
glean from their electric field sensors. Gel-filled pores, scattered
across a shark’s head connect to nerve endings that make them
sensitive to voltage gradients. Sharks can use these electroreceptors
to spot the weak bioelectric fields around hidden prey, such as a
flounder buried in sand.
For decades, marine biologists have suspected that sharks might also
use these electroreceptors for navigation. Tiger and blue sharks can
swim mile after mile in a straight line with no view of the ocean
floor and only scattered, changing light coming from above. Some
researchers suspect they maintain their heading by using the Earth’s
When a conductor – in this case the shark – passes through a magnetic
field, the interaction sets up a voltage across the conductor. The
strength and orientation of that voltage depends on the conductor’s
angle to the magnetic field. If a shark could detect those changes, it
could use its electrical receptors like a compass. The only way to
test this, Tricas says, is to monitor electroreception in a freely
Other animal behaviour researchers are setting their subjects loose
too. Jaideep Mavoori at the University of Washington in Seattle has
developed a neural implant for monkeys that can monitor brain activity
while the primates play. “We believe we are the first to record neural
activity from a monkey doing a somersault,” Mavoori says.
Mavoori’s implant can also stimulate one part of the brain in response
to activity in another, and has a microchip that can interpret the
neural signals and send a message to another part of the brain or a
muscle accordingly. He and his colleagues believe such an implant
might ultimately help humans compensate for lost nerve function caused
by injury or disease.
They have found that when a monkey is free to move around, sets of
neurons controlling opposing muscle groups – those that extend and
flex a joint – are both active throughout many movements. However,
when a monkey is restrained in a chair and taught to extend its hand
for a food reward, say, only the neurons that control the extensor
muscles tend to be active.
“Remote controlled sharks glide silently though the water without
being spotted”Understanding this difference may be vital in creating a
muscle-stimulating prosthesis to restore movement to a limb paralysed
by nerve damage. For some loose movements, such as gently extending
your arm in and out, sending signals to opposing muscles in turn works
quite well. However, for movements that require some rigidity in the
joint, such as inserting a book into a bookcase, you need to engage
opposing muscles simultaneously. A successful neural prosthesis will
need to mimic both patterns.
Meanwhile DARPA too plans to take its shark implants out of the
laboratory. Project engineer Walter Gomes of the Naval Undersea
Warfare Center in Newport, Rhode Island, says the team’s next step
will be to implant the device into blue sharks and release them into
the ocean off the coast of Florida.
However, the radio signals used to direct the dogfish in the tank will
not penetrate water, so the engineers plan to communicate with the
sharks using sonar. According to Gomes, the navy already has acoustic
signalling towers in the area that are suitable for relaying messages
from a ship to a shark up to 300 kilometres away. The team has
designed a sonar receiver shaped like a remora fish to minimise drag
when attached to the animal.
The scientists will be particularly interested in the sharks’ health
during the tests. As wild predators, it is very easy to exhaust them,
and this will place strict limits on how long the researchers can
control their movements in any one session without harming them.
Despite this limitation, though, remote controlled sharks do have
advantages that robotic underwater surveillance vehicles just cannot
match: they are silent, and they power themselves.