The Animat Project: Interfacing Neuronal Cultures to a Computer Generated Virtual World

T. DeMarse, D. Wagenaar, A. Blau, & S. Potter-  Division of Biology, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, California 91125, tdemarse@caltech.edu, wagenaar,@caltech.edu, axel@caltech.edu, spotter@gg.caltech.edu, http://www.caltech.edu/~pinelab/PotterGroup

Current studies of learning typically focus on either the biological aspects of learning or on behavioral measures.  The goal of the Animat Project is to bridge the gap between these two areas by developing a system in which the biology can behave in a virtual reality.  Using multi-electrode array technology (MEAs),  rat cortical neurons cultured on a MEA are being given a simulated body which together form an Animat that can move or "behave" in a computer generated virtual world. The computer then acts as its senses, providing feedback into the dish in the form of electrical stimulation about the effects of interactions between the Animat's movement and the environment  (e.g., navigating around a barrier).  Changes in the Animat's behavior as a result of experience in this virtual world may then be studied in concert with the biological processes (e.g., neural plasticity) responsible for those changes.