About the Project
A project to develop a Cyborg (cybernetic organism) has begun. In this project, the aim is to enable communication between living nerve tissue and a robot. The social and interactive Cyborg serves as a platform for studying neural signaling properties, robotics and hybrid bio-robotic machines. The project aims to bring NTNU to the forefront of international research within these areas, while creating a platform for interdisciplinary collaborations and teaching.
NTNU Cyborg is a project within the NTNU Enabling Technologies research programs NTNU Morphogenetic Engineering under NTNU Biotechnology and NTNU Digital. The project is coordinated between the Department of Engineering Cybernetics (ITK), the Department of Computer Science (IDI), the Department of Neuromedicine and Movement Science (INB), and the Department of Cancer Research and Molecular Medicine (IKMM). Head of NTNU Biotechnology and NTNU Cyborg is Research Director, Professor Stig W. Omholt. The project is administrated by project director Jan Onarheim (IET), project administrator Laila Berg (MH) and project coordinator Stefano Nichele (IDI). The project is driven forward by NTNU researchers, PhD students, master students and students in the multi-disciplinary course experts in team.
Biological neural networks
The biological neural networks are grown, structured and maintained through the cultivation of in-vitro living neuronal cultures through stem cells extracted from either humans or rats. This research is administrated and supervised by Dr. Ioanna Sanvig (INB), Dr. Axel Sandvig (INB) and Prof. Øyvind Halaas (IKM), and conducted by PhD students Ola Huse Ramstad (INB), Rosanne van de Wijdeven (IKM), Ulrich Stefan Bauer (INB) and Vibeke Valderhaug (INB).
Communication with biological neural networks
The cyborg’s biological “brain” is grown over Micro-Electrode Arrays (MEAs). During development, the neurons spontaneously organize into networks and communicate with one another through electrical signals. The MEA can capture these neural signals, and enable an interface between the biological network and the rest of the robotic system. By analyzing the network’s electrical output, as well as stimulating the network with environmental feedback, we are developing a closed-loop system which we hope will allow the neuronal culture to operate and learn within its working environment. Leading the work transforming these electrical signals to application is Prof. Gunnar Tufte (IDI) (also head of NTNU Morphogenetic Engieneering), Prof. Stefano Nichele (IDI) and PhD student Peter Aaser (IDI).
The robot is the body of the Cyborg. The ambition here is to have an autonomous robot/cyborg roaming the campus hallways and interacting with people it meets. A robot base has been purchased under the supervision of Prof. Øyvind Stavdahl (ITK), who has also supervised and engaged several students in the project. Prof. Sverre Hendseth (ITK) is currently the main supervisor for specializition projects, master thesis and an Expert in Team village groups working on the robot. In addition, PhD student Martinius Knudsen (ITK) coordinates this robot development activity along with working on the project for his PhD.
The need for a broad academic foundation
NTNU Cyborg expands over several faculties, and new relevant academic staff are participating with research from their respective studies. Activities surrounding "NTNU Cyborg" have a huge potential to connect many different disciplines across departments and faculties. Some examples of relevant research fields are:
- Robotics (robot control, navigation)
- Mechatronics ("body parts", lifelike face)
- Sensor technology (human-machine communication, machine-neuron communication)
- Artificial intelligence (consciousness formation, integration of artificial and biological neural networks)
- Communication Technology ("wireless spine", data compression)
- Microelectronics (neuron-computer interface, etc.),
- Image Analysis (face recognition, mood interpretation)
- Speech technology (speech recognition and interpretation, bidirectional interface)
- Psychology (human acceptance of robots, hybrid social structures with humans and robots)
- Ethics (robots that fill human roles, should intelligent machines have rights?)
- Philosophy (human role in the world, the technology's impact on society)
- Linguistics (speech technology)
- Neuroscience (cultivation of nerve cultures, training of "brain functions"),
- Morphogenesis (how to model, initiate and influence self-organizing processes).