Working from their university labs in two different corners of the world, U.S. and Australian researchers have created what they call a new class of creative beings, "the semi-living artist" – a picture-drawing robot in Perth, Australia whose movements are controlled by the brain signals of cultured rat cells in Atlanta.
Gripping three colored markers positioned above a white canvas, the robotic drawing arm operates based on the neural activity of a few thousand rat neurons placed in a special petri dish that keeps the cells alive. The dish, a Multi-Electrode Array (MEA), is instrumented with 60 two-way electrodes for communication between the neurons and external electronics. The neural signals are recorded and sent to a computer that translates neural activity into robotic movement.
The network of brain cells, located in Professor Steve Potter's lab at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, and the mechanical arm, located in the lab of Guy Ben- Ary at the University of Western Australia in Perth, interact in real-time through a data exchange system via an Internet connection between the robot and the brain cells.
MEART - The Semi Living Artist is a geographically detached, bio-cybernetic project exploring aspects of creativity and artistry in the age of biological technologies and the future possibilities of creating semi living entities. It investigates our abilities and intentions in dealing with the emergence of a new class of beings (whose production may lie far in the future) that may be sentient, creative and unpredictable. Meart takes the basic components of the brain (isolated neurons) attaches them to a mechanical body through the mediation of a digital processing engine to attempt and create an entity that will seemingly evolve, learn and become conditioned to express its growth experiences through "art activity". The combined elements of unpredictability and "temperament" with the ability to learn and adapt, creates an artistic entity that is both dependent, and independent, from its creator and its creator's intentions.