Synthetic Biology

The sweet spot integrating neurobiology, robotics and synthetic biology

Joseph Ayers

Marine Science Center, Northeastern University, USA


Research interests

We build biomimetic robots based on simple neurobiological models, the lobster and sea lamprey. The robots feature a physical plant that captures the biomechanical advantages of the body form, a neuronal circuit-based controller, neuromorphic sensors, myomorphic actuators and a behavioral set based on action patterns, reverse engineered from movies of the animal models. Our controllers are based on neuronal circuits established from neurophysiology. To achieve real-time operation, we base our electronic neurons on nonlinear dynamical models of neuronal behavior rather than physiological models. We employ both UCSD electronic neurons and synapses (analog computers that solve the Hindmarsh-Rose equations) and discrete time map based neurons and synapses that are integrated on a DSP. Together these components provide an integrated architecture for the control of innate behavioral action patterns and reactive autonomy.

Website: Lab webpage



Speaker abstract

The adaptive capabilities of underwater organisms result from layered exteroceptive reflexes responding to gravity, impediment, and hydrodynamic and optical flow. In combination with taxic responses to point sources of sound or chemicals, these reflexes allow reactive autonomy in the most challenging of environments. We are developing a new generation of lobster and lamprey-based robots that operate under control by synaptic networks rather than algorithms. The networks are based on the command neuron, coordinating neuron, central pattern generator architecture, code sensor input as labeled lines and activate shape memory alloy-based artificial muscle through a simple neuromuscular interface. In a separate project, we are developing an electronic nervous system to control the flight of RoboBee. In all systems, the behavioral set results from chaining sequences of exteroceptive reflexes released by sensory feedback from the environment. In parallel we are exploring principles of synthetic biology to develop biohybrid robots and sensors and actuators that can interface to electronic nervous systems. Cyberplasm combines an aVLSI electronic nervous system with engineered cellular sensors and engineered muscle that responds to light generated by oLEDs gated by neuron action potentials. In the ONR MURI we are integrating programmable bacteria with RoboLobster and RoboLamprey to enhance chemosensory capabilities.

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