Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University have managed to configure an implanted electrode array in the brain of a monkey to control a robotic arm. The Daily Mail is reporting on research published in the journal Nature…
Researchers implanted a grid of tiny electrodes into the animals’ brains, in the area which controls movement. They then used sophisticated computer software to pick up and interpret signals from the electrodes.
When the monkeys saw some food they wanted to eat, the computer decoded their brain activity and sent commands to motors in the electronic arm.
The animals quickly learned to use their thoughts to make the hand, or gripper, take pieces of food off a spike.
An article accompanying the report says: “They were able to make the robot reach out to a tasty treat, stop, close the gripper on the treat, remove it from a small peg, bring the gripper back to their mouth and open the gripper to eat the treat, all in one natural-looking motion.”
Those thousand words are captured nicely in the video below:
Having done some time in that field, this Medgadgeteer can say that while this kind of work makes for great science news, significant hurdles remain to its viability outside of a research lab. The heart of the issue lies with implanted electrode arrays. Typically, their ability to record a decipherable signal diminishes precipitously with time. There aren’t many willing to undergo massively invasive brain surgery for what may at best be months of functionality.
Which isn’t to say this isn’t a worthwhile pursuit. The outcomes of this line of research have the ability to fundamentally change how medicine deals with paralysis and amputation. It’s just that if we’re to pride ourselves as smarter-than-the-average-tech-blog, we must apply a critical eye to the hype.
More from the Daily Mail…
University of Pittsburgh press release: Mind over matter: Monkey feeds itself using its brain…