Scientists use monkey's brain signals to control robot
This isn't just monkey business -- the same technology could help paralyzed people walk
Computerworld - Scientists in the U.S. and Japan have successfully used a monkey's brain activity to control a humanoid robot -- over the Internet.
This research may only be a few years away from helping paralyzed people walk again by enabling them to use their thoughts to control exoskeletons attached to their bodies, according to Miguel Nicolelis, a professor of neurobiology at Duke University and lead researcher on the project.
"This is an attempt to restore mobility to people," said Nicolelis. "We had the animal trained to walk on a treadmill. As it walked, we recorded its brain activity that generated its locomotion pattern. As the animal was walking and slowing down and changing his pattern, his brain activity was driving a robot in Japan in real time."
Nicolelis said he has been working on this research project for 10 years.
A year ago, doctors implanted 64 electrodes and a computer chip into the brains of two rhesus monkeys. Then last Thursday, the group was ready to start recording electrical signals from 200 of the animal's brain cells as it walked on a treadmill.
Those signals were transmitted over the Internet to scientists at the Computational Brain Project of the Japan Science and Technology Agency, where researchers fed the information into a humanoid robot that immediately began to respond to the monkey's brain activity -- walking at the same pace, slowing down when the monkey slowed, and changing its walking pattern to exactly match the animal's.
"It normally takes 250 milliseconds for the brain to create a signal and for the leg to move," said Nicolelis. "In that same time interval, we were able to send the signal to Japan and get a video loop back showing the robot responding to the thoughts.... If this was happening in a patient, it would be very quick. The patient wouldn't notice any time lag. It would feel like moving your own leg."
Nicolelis also noted that the monkey was watching the video of the corresponding robot and seemed amused that the robot was mimicking its movements. "As he changed his speed or pattern, he was watching the robot change as well," he added. "He was pretty happy, yeah. Plus, he was getting fruits and Cheerios as a reward."
The Duke University professor said that it was very significant that the electrodes and chip worked so well a year after being surgically implanted in the monkey.
"There have been a lot of difficulties maintaining recordings with other technologies," said Nicolelis. "With this, we have completed a year, and that shows you can sustain viable implants without any harmful impact to the animal or the brain of the animal. That's a key issue for future patients."
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