A hybrot, or hybrid robot, is part nature, part machine, connecting neurons to a robot!
It may seem like science fiction, but scientists have found a way to create a cybernetic organism in the form of a robot that's controlled by a computer that uses electric and biological parts!
This has been going on since 1993, and so far the biological components have been mostly rat neurons.
The reason this came about was not to build a terminator or avatar. Actually, Steve Potter, the researcher who led the group that came up with the idea for hybrots, did it to better understand how neurons learn.
Previously, traditional, isolated cultured networks wouldn't work very well because the neurons didn't receive any data; they would only output data.
He decided to provide a body for the neurons early in his research, first in computer simulation and then in reality, so that neurons would have feedback.
In that way, if the cells learned, he and his group might observe the changes that came about in the network.
"People say learning is a change in behavior that comes from experience," he said. "For a cultured network to learn, it must first be able to behave."
As the robot moves, it functions as a sensory system, delivering feedback to the neurons through the electrodes. For example, the robot has sensors for light and feeds electrical signals proportional to the light back to the electrodes.
Said Potter: "We return information to the dish on the intensity of light as the robot gets closer and the light gets brighter."