The future of brain-controlled robotics is here, and it is so accessible, even a monkey can handle it. According to Gizmodo, researchers have developed a wireless brain-machine interface (BMI) that gives monkeys the ability to control a robotic wheelchair, just by thinking about where they want it to go. The scientists believe that the findings of the study, recently published in Nature Scientific Reports, could lead to great new developments that could potentially "restore whole body mobility to severely paralyzed patients."
For the research, the scientists, led by Duke University neurobiologist Miguel Nicolelis, implanted wireless devices into the brains of two rhesus monkeys in the regions responsible for sensations and movement. Then, they preprogrammed machine routes to a reward (in this case, grapes). Eventually, the monkeys learned how to navigate the wheelchairs freely, as demonstrated in the video above. In fact, the primates, nicknamed “M” and “K”, were wheeling around at speeds of up to 11 inches per second. During the entire process, Nicolelis and his team monitored their brain activity.
What sets this study apart from previous studies, according to Nerdist, is that the monkeys did not have to teach their brains to control the machine by first moving their own bodies. "This means that even if people have no control over their limbs or muscles, they’ll still be able to learn how to control external machines," Matthew Hart writes.
The study is a part of the larger Walk Again Project by Miguel Nicolelis of Duke Health, a nonprofit focused on brain interface tech. "The current results promise much more than a mere demonstration that monkeys can control whole body navigation," the researchers write. They argue that their findings support the idea that "when paraplegic patients are subjected to intense BMI training, they not only became capable of regaining walking, using a robotic exoskeleton, but they also can exhibit signs of partial neurological recovery of sensorimotor and autonomic functions."
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