It sounds like something Dr. Evil from Austin Powers might have come up with. But unlike sharks with laser beams attached to their heads, mind–controlled turtles are now a reality. That’s right, researchers in Korea have figured out a way to control how turtles move with human thought. The new technology uses the turtle’s natural flight or fight response to tell it which direction to swim.
The system, created by researchers from the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST), combines two technologies opposite to one another: brain–to–computer interfaces (BCI’s), which allow humans to control machines via thought– and computer–to–brain interfaces (CBI’s), which make it possible to transmit data from a computer to the brain.
The system works like this: a camera is attached to a turtle’s shell providing a live feed to a human. When the human operator thinks of a direction to move in– left, right, or to stay put– the thought is received by a computer the human wears, which recognizes the directions as electroencephalography (EEG) signals. The wearable computer then transmits the command over Wi–Fi to a receiver, also mounted atop the turtle’s shell.
This receiver activates a small blind attached to the front of the shell. This blind can move from left to right. Whichever direction the human decides for the turtle to swim, the blind will move to the opposite side. For instance, when the human thinks left, the blind will move to the right. The turtle’s instinct kicks in, telling it to swim to the left to get around the perceived obstacle.
The new technology was put to the test with three obstacle courses, one indoors and two outdoors. The decked–out turtle navigated all three successfully, moving over grass and gravel while dodging trees, with his human controller sitting three miles away.
Turtles were chosen for the experiment in part due to their high cognitive ability but mostly because they display very strong instinctual escape behavior. They predictably avoid obstacles and naturally gravitate towards light, which to them represents open space.
Though the experiment was eventually successful, the team did experience some speed bumps along the way.
“Because this study was a new concept experiment that conveyed human thoughts to animals, there was a lot of trial and error,” study co–author Daegun Kim told Foxnews.com.
One hurdle was making sure they didn’t break any animal protection ordinances, which are very strict. The last thing they wanted was a shellacking from angry animal rights activists.
“It is very important to conduct animal experiments in accordance with ethical regulations,” Kim said. “We designed and conducted experiments in accordance with the KAIST Animal Experimental Ethics Code.”
So what’s next for the technology? There are many possibilities, including applications to military recon and surveillance.
“I believe that these animal avatar technologies will be developed in the future for entertainment, military, and industrial purposes,” Kim said, “and I think there is a possibility that it can be applied to humans.”