Connecting Brains to Robots: The Development of a Hybrid System for the Study of Learning in Neural Tissues

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4 Author(s)

We have developed a hybrid neuro-robotic system based on a two-way communication between the brain of a lamprey and a small mobile robot. Time purpose of this system is to offer a new paradigm for investigating the behavioral, computational and neurobiological mechanisms of sensory motor learning in a unified context. The mobile robot acts as an artificial body that delivers sensory information to the neural tissue and receives command signals from it. The sensory information encodes the intensity of light generated by a fixed source. The closed-loop interaction between brain and robot generates autonomous behaviors whose features are strictly related to the structure and operation of the neural preparation. In this paper we provide a detailed description of the hybrid system and we present experimental findings on its performance. In particular, we found (a) that the hybrid system generates stable behaviors; (b) that different preparation display different but systematic responses to the presentation of an optical stimulus and (c) that alteration of the sensory input lead to short and long term adaptive changes in the robot responses. The comparison of the behaviors generated by the lamprey's brainstem with the behaviors generated by network models of the same neural system provides us with a new tool for investigating the computational properties of synaptic plasticity