GPS Brain Implant Allows Blind Rats to Navigate Maze

Thursday, 02 April 2015 - 5:25PM
Weird Science
Neuroscience
Thursday, 02 April 2015 - 5:25PM
GPS Brain Implant Allows Blind Rats to Navigate Maze
If you've ever been lost, then you know what it's like to wish for a GPS/Google Maps beamed directly into your brain. Scientists may be one step closer to making this a reality, as they have managed to implant compasses into the brains of blind rats, allowing them to navigate a maze.

For the study, the researchers implanted a geomagnetic compass into the visual cortex of the blind rats' brains. (Incidentally, the rats were not actually blind, but their eyelids were sutured. This is horrifying, but it's unclear whether this was a painful or permanently damaging process, so we're going to blow past it.) They were then provided real-time feedback about their their head directions from electrodes mounted on their heads, and used this information in order to mentally "map" their surroundings and navigate the maze.

Using this external real-time direction, the rats were ultimately able to navigate the maze as well as normal, sighted rats. The scientists essentially have no idea how their brains were able to do this, but it demonstrates just how adaptable the brain really is. As a result, we may be able to treat humans brains with a similar type of technology in order to treat blindness.

"Perhaps we don't make full use of our brain because of the poor sensory organs it relies on," team leader Yuji Ikegaya told New Scientist.

And although treating blindness is the most intuitive use of the technology, the researchers hope that they could use it on healthy humans in order to extend our senses. The geomagnetic compass is literally the same technology that allows your smartphone to give you directions, so if it were ever modified to work on humans, the implant could literally put smartphone navigational technology in your brain. 

"I'm dreaming that humans can expand their senses through artificial sensors for geomagnetism, ultraviolet, radio waves, ultrasonic waves and so on," said Ikegaya. "Ultrasonic and radio-wave sensors may enable the next generation of human-to-human communication."
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