Monday, October 23, 2017
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A Lego Robot with a Worm Brain

The robot above might look straightforward, but the software controlling its actions is driven by 302 apps that represent the neurons of a nematode. Photo courtesy of Timothy Busbice.
The robot above might look straightforward, but the software controlling its actions is driven by 302 apps that represent the neurons of a nematode. Photo courtesy of Timothy Busbice.

Software representing the entire mental map of a Caenorhabditis Elegans (C. Elegans) nematode is being run on a Lego Mindstorms EV3 robot. Timothy Busbice, one of the co-founders of the Open Worm project, created the system in order to study a biological brain in silica. He’s been creating connectomes, using programs to represent neurons, for the last 20 years.

Other researchers have attempted to make a robot that moves far more like a worm. Busbice’s work is unique, however, because the software attempts to fully represent the brain of a nematode, by featuring a seperate applications for each of the worm’s 302 neurons. Communication between apps is done via User Datagram Protocol (UDP). An SQL database contains all the data on how the neurons are connected and weighted.

When touch sensors on the front or back or the robot are triggered, the robot moves appropriately. When the sonar sensor (referred to as the nose of the worm robot) is stimulated, the robot stops. When the sound sensor detects noise, the robot moves forward.

While this might sound like a simple, four-sensor robot, there’s a lot going on behind the scenes. Running the worm software requires all of the processing power of Busbice’s 64-bit, T420 Lenovo Laptop, however. Ideally, he’d like to reduce the workload of each processor and have one per neuron.

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