A group of researchers have figured out a way to allow monkeys to control a wheelchair with their minds. The achievement, which uses a brain implant, could soon even help severely paralyzed people to control their wheelchairs, allowing them have more mobility than before.
The researchers think that in the future this method could be employed not only to control wheelchairs, but also other artificial limbs. The research was published recently in Scientific Reports.
Previously, other research groups have tried to achieve this task using noninvasive devices, but an implantable brain-machine interface (BMI) provides more nuanced control.
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The research group, led by Miguel Nicolelis of the Duke University Center for Neuroengineering, implanted the device into the brains of rhesus monkeys, whose brains are most similar to humans. The device works by recording signals from neurons in two regions of the monkeys’ brains involved in movement and sensation.
“We are hoping to start trying this in humans soon”, he said.
As motivation to move, the researchers placed a bowl of grapes in the center of a room. As the monkeys thought about moving toward the bowl of grapes, the BMI translated those brain signals into operations performed by the wheelchair, moving it towards the bowl of grapes.
“It took a few tries for the monkeys to get used to it, and some are better than others,” says Nicolelis, but most of them eventually got the hang of it, and if it were used in humans, it would be much easier, he says. “Over time, the device becomes an extension of the animal’s body.”
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