One of the most difficult parts of the human body to imitate due to its complexity is the hand. The Shadow Robot Company designs and develops highly dexterous robotic hands that are as realistic as possible to human hands and makes them available to researchers within the framework of the Human Brain Project. The goal is to integrate them into the robots of the future.
The Human Brain Project is a mammoth European initiative with many branches. Italian researchers associated with the project have developed a model of the cerebellum with which to study how that area of the brain works and how it is affected when under illness.
Francis Crick, the co-discoverer of the DNA double helix, defined consciousness as the greatest unsolved problem in biology. The first major international conference of the Human Brain Project, held recently in Barcelona, has focused on the challenges and advances in its study. We have spoken with the local organizer of the conference.
A typical feature of mammals lies in their ability to experience sensations, something that robots are beginning to imitate. With the help of artificial skins and algorithms, Czech and Italian researchers have managed to make a small humanoid robot aware of human contact and even notice if someone is invading his 'living' space.
In the largest European project on the human brain, the Human Brain Project, 85% of leaders are men. To try to correct imbalances like this, the consortium has organized a conference on gender and diversity in Madrid. The experts, mostly women, propose structural changes and education in equality.
Although there are techniques to analyze what happens in the brain while executing some activity, a new method based on ultrasound solves the problems of the previous ones: it is portable, has a better resolution and can be used in movement. A European team of researchers has validated its effectiveness in active and anesthetized rodents.
The neuroscientist Gustavo Deco jokes: "Basically, we do not know anything about the brain. This Argentine doctor, a triple doctor in Physics, Computing and Psychology, hopes that the joined efforts of all disciplines reveal the secrets of the most complex organ. He is currently researching the circuitous network of connections that are activated when we do something as apparently simple as distinguishing objects with our sight.
A region of the brain that extends through both hemispheres, the planum temporale, is larger in the left than in the right hemisphere. The finding was linked in the 1960s with the hosting of language processing in the left hemisphere, but today European researchers show that this asymmetry is not a marker of language lateralization.
When we sleep, our organism goes through different phases of sleep, however the brain remains interconnected during non-REM sleep, which was thought not to happen. The finding by a European team of researchers has also made it possible to analyse the scientific basis of consciousness, an increasingly important field of neuroscience.
The two main pitfalls of robots which imitate the human body are their control and the difficulty encountered when manufacturing them in a cost-effective manner. Researchers from the MoCoTi European project have designed the prototype of an android which learns how to actuate its own limbs and can be easily duplicated. The device, formed of an artificial brain which controls a tendon-driven robotic arm, might be the first step towards low cost humanoid robotics.