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Electronic Design

Food-Seeking Organism Mobilizes Six-Legged Robot

A professor at the University of Southampton has discovered a way to harness the natural inclination of a slime mold to avoid light sources to mobilize a six-legged robot.

Klaus-Peter Zauner found that physarum polycephalum could be used to control the movements of a small robot. Physarum polycephalum is a single-celled organism that moves toward food sources like bacteria and fungi. The mold, which can grow to several meters in diameter, uses a network of tubes filled with cytoplasm to sense and respond to its environment.

Zauner and his colleagues grew a six-pointed star-shaped sample of the mold, which was mounted on a circuit that controlled the hexapod robot (see the figure). As the slime attempted to move away from bright lights, the circuit sensed its movement. Zauner’s team then was able to remotely direct the robot by controlling light sensors mounted on the robot’s back.

The robot’s legs were driven by six servos controlled through a serial interface and a PC. Six light sensors on the bot fed into six channels on a sound card in the PC. A flexible wire bundle connected the robot with the PC.

Klaus says he expects cells like physarum polycephalum to become an integral part of technological devices. He continues to investigate how the repertoire of phase patterns relates to circuit topology.

University of Southampton

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