Crustaceans Help Build NASA's Exploration Skills

Crayfish are good explorers, according to Professor David Macmillan of the University of Melbourne, Australia. They use their antennae to orient themselves. They use chemosensory receptors placed all over their bodies to detect chemicals in the water that indicate food, mates and predators.

That's why they are helping NASA with space exploration.


(From Crayfish Navigate bubblewrap for science)

According to Macmillan, crayfish can perform sophisticated analyses on a space before they even enter it; he has worked with NASA scientists developing robots to give them pointers on how crayfish use their tails. They (crayfish) can easily distinguish between different surfaces, like bubblewrap versus sandpaper. Their great sense of touch sets yet another example for NASA biomimetic explorer robots, which have already benefited from Macmillan's previous studies of crayfish tails.

"Invertebrates such as insects and crustaceans achieve similar movement and sensory outcomes to humans. For example, finding food and selection of appropriate mates and nesting sites. Where humans use millions of neurons to achieve such outcomes, invertebrates do it with thousands. Where humans use hundreds, invertebrates may use as few as six," he says.

"It is this parsimony, that ability to control complex behaviours with an amazingly small amount of brain power that attracts scientists from disciplines including robotics engineering, computer programming, biology, mathematics and neurology."
(From Univ. Melbourne)

It turns out the science fiction writer Charles Stross thought that crustaceans could help human beings figure things out and explore. In his novel Accelerando, he writes about it:

"Are you the same KGB AI that phoned me yesterday?"
"Da. However, you misconceptionalized me...
"You're the .. Moscow Windows NT User Group? Okhni NT?"
"Da. Am needing help in defecting."
"Why do you want to defect... ideological or strictly economic?"
"Neither - is biological. Am wanting to go away from humans, away from light cone of impending singularity. Take us to the ocean..."
"Let me get this straight. You're uploads - nervous system state vectors - from spiny lobsters? The Moravec operation: take a neuron, map its synapses, replace with microelectrodes that deliver identical outpus from a simulation of the nerve. Repeat for entire brain, until you've got a working map of it in your simulator. That right?"
(Read more about lobster AIs)

Story from here, more from earlier story there. Thanks to alert reader RandomAction for the tip and book on this story.

Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 1/29/2006)

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