SCIENCE
08/12/2013 08:54 am ET Updated Aug 12, 2013

Slime Mold Controls Robot's Freaky Facial Expressions In New Experiment (VIDEO)

It's always a bit creepy to watch a human-like robot run through its facial expressions, from a vacant smile to an odd frown. And the experimental robot seen in the video above is especially creepy because its expressions are controlled by -- get this -- mold.

As New Scientist reported, researchers at the University of the West of England in Bristol programmed the robotic face to respond to electrical signals produced by slime mold, fungus-like organisms that look like spongy yellow blobs.

When the mold moves toward food, the bot registers a positive expression. When the mold recoils from light, the bot suddenly looks downcast-- just look at the video above.

"The robot aspect was incorporated as a technology showcase, essentially to show that we can take data from biology and link it to robots," the university's Dr. Ella Gale, a research associate in unconventional computing, told The Huffington Post in an email. "We found that we could pick up and differentiate what the slime mold was doing in response to stimuli, such as light."

To create the robot-mold interface, Dr. Gale placed the mold in a small dish, on a bed of 64 tiny electrodes. The electrodes pick up tiny electrical signals from the mold and route them to the robot. At the same time, the signals are used to produce sounds -- creating an eerie soundtrack that accompanies the bot's face-shifting performance.

"This is so creepy," YouTube user Ryan Luis commented on the video.

Dr. Gale noted that the robot is really another way of interpreting the data to learn more about slime mold organisms.

"The electronic data was listened to because the human ear is well attuned to pick up patterns in sound and was in fact more useful than the eye (I was also looking at graphs of the data) in terms of getting an appreciation of what was going on during the experiment," she said in the email

This robotic experiment was demonstrated during the recent Living Machines conference at the Natural History Museum in London, which was held from July 29 to Aug. 2.

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