UNESCO Arts, Science & Technology

Grey Walter

Grey Walter was born in Kansas City, Missouri, in 1910. His parents were originally German/British and American/British. He was brought to England in 1915, and educated at Westminster School and afterwards in King's College, Cambridge, in 1931. He failed to obtain a research fellowship in Cambridge and so turned to doing basic and applied neurophysiological research in hospitals, in London, from 1935 to 1939 and then at the Burden Neurological Institute in Bristol, from 1939 to 1970. He also carried out research work in the United States, in the Soviet Union and in various other places in Europe. A respected neurophysiologist, Walter worked extensively with EEG. He discovered theta and delta waves in the electroencephalogram (the brain waves associated with light and deep sleep, respectively), and developed the first EEG brain topography machine, based on an array of spiral-scan CRTs connected to high-gain amplifiers.

In the late 1940's Dr Grey Walter carried out pioneering research on mobile autonomous robots <turtles_i.htm> at the Burden Neurological Institute as part of his quest to model brain function. He wanted to study the basis of simple reflex actions and to test his theory on complex behavior arising from neural interconnections. His highly successful and inspiring experiments with robot "tortoises" "Elsie" and "Elmer" were influential in the birth of the science of cybernetics, and widely read, as documented in Scientific American; in 1950 and 1951, and in his book The Living Brain (1953). Recently, one of the original tortoises was found by Dr. Owen Holland, of the University of West of England, and was restored to order in 1995. A specimen of a second generation turtle is in the collection of the Smithsonian Institution.

Dr. Grey Walter died in 1977.