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| A robot has learned to recognize itself in the mirror.
A robot named Nico could soon pass a landmark test - recognising itself in a mirror.
Such self-awareness would represent a step towards the ultimate goal of thinking robots.
Nico, developed by computer scientists at Yale University, will take the test in the coming months.
The ultimate aim is for Nico to use a mirror to interpret objects around it, in the same way as humans use a rear-view mirror to look for cars.
"It is a spatial reasoning task for the robot to understand that its arm is on it not on the other side of the mirror," Justin Hart, the PhD student leading the research told BBC News.
So far the robot has been programmed to recognise a reflection of its arm, but ultimately Mr Hart wants it to pass the "full mirror test".
The so-called mirror test was originally developed in 1970 and has become the classic test of self-awareness.
More usually performed on animals, the creature is given time to get used to the mirror and is then anesthetized and marked on the face with odourless, non-tactile dye.
The animal's reaction to their reflection is used as a gauge of their self-awareness, based on whether they inspect the mark on their own body, or react as if it does not appear on themselves.
Justin Hart and Nico Justin Hart is building the software that will help Nico recognise himself
To date, only a few non-human species pass these tests, including some primates, elephants and dolphins. Human babies are unable to pass the test until they are 18 months old.
Increasingly scientists have used similar tests to analyse self-awareness in robots but none have yet programmed a robot to fully recognise itself from appearance alone.
"This is based on appearance rather than motion. I'm trying to pass the full mirror test," said Mr Hart.
A study in 2007 saw a robot able to distinguish movements in a mirror by classifying pixels either as belonging to it or to others.
Later studies observed how a robot imitated tasks of other robots versus imitating itself in a mirror and most recently the Qbo robot was programmed to react to different images - responding to specific images of itself with the phrase: "This is you, Qbo."
Mr Hart, who is working on the project with his supervisor Brian Scassellati, will publish his findings in the spring.
"This is an important step but it is not the endgame of artificial intelligence, it is just a step along the way," he said.
Researchers have created 'artifical' tissue with embedded wires, enabling them to monitor in real time how the tissue is behaving.
They beat like real heart cells, but the rat cardiomyocytes in a dish at Harvard University are different in one crucial way. Snaking through them are wires and transistors that spy on each cell's electrical impulses. In future, the wires might control their behaviour too.
Versions of this souped-up, "cyborg" tissue have been created for neurons, muscle and blood vessels. They could be used to test drugsMovie Camera or as the basis for biological versions of existing implants such as pacemakers. If signals can also be sent to the cells, cyborg tissue could be used in prosthetics or to create tiny robots.
"It allows one to effectively blur the boundary between electronic, inorganic systems and organic, biological ones," says Charles Lieber, who leads the team behind the cyborg tissue.
Artificial tissue can already be grown on three-dimensional scaffolds made of biological materials that are not electrically active. And electrical components have been added to cultured tissue before, but not integrated into its structure, so they were only able to glean information from the surface.
Lieber's team combined these strands of work to create electrically active scaffolds. They created 3D networks of conductive nanowires studded with silicon sensors. Crucially, the wires had to be flexible and extremely small, to avoid impeding the growth of tissue. The scaffold also contained traditional biological materials such as collagen.
The researchers were able to grow rat neurons, heart cells and muscle in these hybrid meshes. In the case of the heart cells, they started to contract just like normal cells, and the researchers used the network to read out the rate of the beats.
When they added a drug that stimulates heart cell contraction, they detected an increase in the rate, indicating the tissue was behaving like normal and that the network could sense such changes.
Lieber's team also managed to grow an entire blood vessel about 1.5 centimetres long from human cells, with wires snaking through it. By recording electrical signals from inside and outside the vessel- something that was never possible before- the team was able to detect electrical patterns that they say could give clues to inflammation, whether tissue has undergone changes that make it prone to tumour formation or suggest impending heart disease.
"You could use these things to directly measure the effects of drugs in synthetically grown human tissue without ever having to test them in an actual human being," says Lieber's colleague Daniel Kohane. He also envisions tissue patches that could be added to the surface of a heart, say, to monitor for problems.
Vladimir Parpura, a neurobiologist at the University of Alabama, Birmingham, who was not involved in the study, suggests using the tissue to build tiny, biomimetic robots or implants that repair damaged tissue via electronic pulses.
So far, though, the researchers have only used the electrical scaffolds to record signals- they have yet to feed commands to cells. So Lieber's next step is to add components to the nanoscaffold that could "talk" to neurons. He says the goal is to "wire up tissue and communicate with it in the same way a biological system does".
Last edited by cowmoo32; 08-28-2012 at 11:04 AM.