Monkey brain moves arm
Technology could lead to better prostheses
Macaque monkeys with electrodes implanted in their brains learned to control a robotic arm with their thoughts. After practice, the monkeys appeared to treat the robotic arm as their own and could feed themselves with the arm using fluid motions.
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“The thing that struck me was how naturally the animals interacted with the device,” comments John Kalaska of the University of Montreal (SN: 6/21/08, p. 9). A computer interpreted the electrical activity of muscle-control neurons in the monkeys’ brains that normally move the monkeys’ arms. Based on these electrical patterns, the computer deciphered the movements that the monkeys intended to make with their own arms, which were restrained, and used that information to operate the robotic arm. Similar experiments wired a paralyzed monkey’s brain to the animal’s forearm muscles, enabling the monkey to make simple forearm movements (SN Online: 10/15/08).
In past research, electrodes implanted into the brains of animals or humans lost contact with the nerve cells after months or weeks because cells in the brain treated the electrodes as foreign objects and attacked them. These obstacles would have to be overcome before thought-controlled robotic limbs would be feasible for people, Kalaska says.
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