Researchers train monkeys to mind-control a wheelchair
You know what they say: so easy a monkey can do it...
Scientists have come up with a new wireless brain-machine interface (BMI) that can let monkeys control a wheelchair with their minds.
Machine-to-brain interfaces have previously been developed which allow primates to use cortical activity to control artificial limbs. As the animals think about moving toward their goal-in this case, a bowl containing fresh grapes-computers translate their brain activity into real-time operation of the wheelchair. Taking a step in that direction, researchers from Duke University have built a system that lets monkeys control wheelchairs with their thoughts alone. Not many people will be interested in having wires implanted in their brains, but we can assume they would be more comfortable wearing a helmet that reads the electrical signals that neurons produce. But, the study argues, implantable BMIs may be able to more reliably ferry movement control signals between the brain and a robotic extension - like a prosthetic limb or in this case the wheelchair.
The report, published online Thursday in Scientific Reports, shows the potential such devices hold for people who have lost most of their muscle control and mobility due to disease or injury, said senior study author Dr. Miguel Nicolelis, co-director of Duke's Center for Neuroengineering, in Durham, N.C. The wireless recording system records the spiking activities from the monkey's head device, and sends the activities to the wireless receiver to decode the wheelchair movement. Then they drove monkeys in wheelchairs and monitored how some 300 neurons in those regions responded. This new study shows you can get even better results with an implant.
After the first part of the experiment was over, the scientists chose to take the monkeys out for a spin. Aside from that, about 70 percent of paralyzed individuals are amenable to undergo surgical implantation of electrodes in their brains to have control over such devices.
In addition to observing brain signals that corresponded to translational and rotational movement, the Duke team also discovered that primates' brain signals showed signs they were contemplating their distance to the bowl of grapes. Nicolelis underscored that the monkeys did not have this skill when the training began.
In the next test, the researchers assessed brain control in order to know how the simian test subjects were able to control the device themselves.
Prof Nicolelis said the team now hopes to expand the experiment by recording more neuronal signals to continue to increase the accuracy before seeking trials for an implanted device in humans.
According to Popular Science, the surgery to install the device is minimally invasive and some implants have been left in a monkey's brain for seven years.