Posted by: robotnews | March 12, 2006

Monkeys Control Robotic Arm with Brain Implants


U0308347 Qui Wei Loong

Monkeys Control Robotic Arm with Brain Implants
Scientists in North Carolina have built a brain implant that lets monkeys control a robotic arm with their thoughts, marking the first time that mental intentions have been harnessed to move a mechanical object

The experiments use monkey to control a robot arm through the use of their thoughts. This is a clear indication that in the close future we can look into the possible use of robotics part for the disable. The experiments is led by Miguel A.L. Nicolelis from the Duke University in Durham, N.C published today in the journal PLoS Biology, the latest in a progression in mind controlled robotics parts in only science fiction-like movies. [1]

This bodes well for the success of brain-machine interfaces. Till now the achievement of mind control machine is only limited to virtual actions like moving a cursor or typing to a computer screen which is basically a 2 dimension task. The monkey is able to learn to control robotic in a 3 dimension task like reaching for an object grasping it and even adjust the amount of strength of the grip. “This is where you want to be,” said Karen A. Moxon, a professor of biomedical engineering at Drexel University in Philadelphia. “It’s one thing to be able to communicate with a video screen. But to move something in the physical world is a real technological feat. And Nicolelis has taken this work to a new level by quantifying the neuroscience behind it.”
The devices use tiny electrodes, each one thinner than a human hair. The tiny wires were directly stuck about 1 mm into the monkey brain (ouch, I think they need to work on this part) and patched the skull using dental cement. The monkeys were unaffected by the surgery but are curious about the wires that are sticking out of their head. The wires are hooked to a computer and on to a large mechanical arm. The training of the monkey is done by placing the monkey and the arm in separate room to prevent the monkey from being frightened by the robotic arm. The monkeys were given joystick to control the arm to grab a cup of juice. They were rewarded with juice if they are successful in grabbing with the right amount of strength and moving the cup. The computer recorded the brain activity and record the animal’s neural firing patterns was now serving as an interpreter, decoding the brain signals according to what it had learned from the joystick games and then sending the appropriate instructions to the mechanical arm. After the computer got good record of the brain activity, the joystick was unplugged. The monkey kept moving the joystick, not realizing that her own brain was now solely in charge of the arm’s movements. Then, he said, an amazing thing happened. The animal was controlling the robot with its thoughts.

There were initial signs that there was a decline in performance but just a day of further training the control become so smooth like is it the monkey’s own arm”It’s quite plausible that the perception is you’re extended into the robot arm, or the arm is an extension of you,” agreed the University of Washington’s Fetz, a pioneer in the field of brain-controlled devices.
John P. Donoghue, a neuroscientist at Brown University developing a similar system, said paralyzed patients would be the first to benefit by gaining an ability to type and communicate on the Web, but the list of potential applications is endless, he said. The devices may even allow quadriplegics to move their own limbs again by sending signals from the brain to various muscles, leaping over the severed nerves that caused their paralysis. [1]
“Once you have an output signal out of the brain that you can interpret, the possibilities of what you can do with those signals are immense,” said Donoghue, who recently co-founded a company, Cyberkinetics Inc. of Foxboro, Mass., to capitalize on the technology.

1http://www.washingtonpost.com/ac2/wp-dyn/A17434-2003Oct12?language=printer

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Responses

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  3. U0205025 Diana Gobeawan

    This mind control system is really amazing.. I can imagine people in the future getting lazier if they can just send things moving by thinking about it! But definitely useful in medical field where surgeons can perform surgery from a distance just by thinking about it, maybe even from a neighbouring country if the signal is strong enough! But I wonder how accurate will this control be?

  4. U0204550 Wong Liang Mian

    It is interesting how the monkey’s brain interface was trained the same way a neural network is being trained. Although neural networks is modelled after how the brain works,I didn’t know that research in how the brain functions has been so far ahead that areas where specific motor motions is controlled is known.

    My guess is that for more casual applications, the main hurdle would be to make the link to the brain as non-invasive as possible. So far, doctors use devices to monitor the brainwaves of patients in comas. Perhaps these brainwaves could be used as a control input as well?

  5. u0204438 Huang Shichao Alvin

    According to this article I saw, researchers have been implementing neurotrophic electrodes into several people with ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, which results in partial to complete muscular paralysis). Using these BCI, patients were trained to spell with a virtual keyboard, play a virtual piano, move their own hands with functional electrical simulation and perform other functional applications.
    Link

    However, I think it will still be a long time before people are comfortable with sticking needles into their heads, despite all those cyborg movies we have all seen over the years.

  6. u0204699 Ong Chin Soon

    I think it is really ingenious on the researchers’ part to think of using a joystick as a medium for learning the neural firing patterns in the monkey’s brain. I guess at this stage the number of tasks that can be performed by the robotic arm through the brain is still rather limited. Imagine how many wires would need to be connected to the brain if sophisticated tasks are needed to be performed. While the neural firing patterns could be easily learnt when the monkeys are very focused on performing the task, I wonder what is going to happen when the monkeys get so used to the action that it no longer focuses on the tasks when asked to do so. There are many things we do in life which have become such a natural part of us that we no longer need to think much when doing them (for instance we no longer need to think of controlling our legs when we walk as it has become a natural part of us). Often, we may be thinking of other things as we perform such tasks. When that happens, would the neural firing patterns be changed since the monkeys no longer focuses as much on performing the tasks as they had initially (they could be thinking of other things and this might cause the firing pattern to be different), such that the computer can no longer recognizes the pattern anymore?

    I agree with Liang Mian that wires sticking out of the brain would be something that researchers probably have to overcome before implementing on human beings. Nevertheless, I would think the subtle brain signal would be difficult to be used as control input. While weak signal may be one issue, other issues would include brain wave interference. If a chip implant could be made in the brain to capture the firing pattern, and sends out the signal wirelessly, this might prove to be more appealing than having wires sticking out.

  7. U0307641 Low Youliang Freddy

    This system is very useful in my opinion for future use such as people with amputated limbs. In fact i’ve seen people who are amputated that was able to move robotic arms using their stumps by twiching the muscles there which are connected to the robotic arm. Imagine the boundless possiblities in the futire. Since a monkey was able to operate the robotic arm, there must be more a human can do with this new technology

  8. U0300641 Yeo Choon Wee

    I think this is a great invention for people who want to live a normal life, but with great power comes with great control. One possible weakness to this invention is that the arm can only be used on people with rational, right mind. People who are disabled are more sensitive to what others say and if the person goes into mind complex which is an extreme case, signals from the brain to the neurons and synapse may not be predictable as our understand of the human brain is not full. The outcome could not be predicted unless protective measures are taken care of. That is robots are not supposed to harm anyone which is also the basic.


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