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South Korean scientists develop another controllable cyborg turtle

parasitic robot turtles mind control human turtle interface
Scientists at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) have made another cyborg turtle. In March, they developed a system that let people control turtles with their minds by maneuvering a blinder to guide the turtle in a desired direction (turtles apparently hate blinders and will move away from them).

Now, they’ve developed a “parasitic robot” that uses LEDs to steer the turtle in certain directions, reports IEEE Spectrum. The device could be used to develop animal-robot hybrids with the natural benefits of a living organism and the controllability of a machine.


Unlike the human-turtle interface, which relied on a barrier to make the animal move in the opposite direction, KAIST’s new method uses positive reinforcement to encourage the animal. With operant conditioning, the turtles are taught to associate a red LED with food by eating their meals next to LEDs for two weeks.

The robot, which attaches to the turtle’s back, hangs five LEDs in front of its face. As in the comic image of a dog chasing a sausage on a string, the turtle moves towards the shining LED, under the expectation of a reward. When the turtle responds correctly, the robot excretes a gel-type food substance from a syringe.

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Turtles are great subjects for such experiments thanks to their good eyesight, strong long-term memory, and hard shell, which functions as a platform for the robot. They’re also amphibious creatures, so if and when this technology is used in the real world situation, the turtle wouldn’t be afraid to swim.

But what real world applications could this device possibly have?

Robots have relatively limited mobility and are prone to break down. Building a robot that can traverse a pile of rubble, for example, is tough. While turtles aren’t the fastest or most mobile animals around, they may still be able to access areas that robots can’t, allowing them to assist in things like search-and-rescue missions.

Just to be clear, the researchers ensured that the animals were cared for under international guidelines for animal well-being.

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Dyllan Furness
Dyllan Furness is a freelance writer from Florida. He covers strange science and emerging tech for Digital Trends, focusing…
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