Monkey controls robotic arm with brain-computer interface



Neuroscientists at the University of Pittsburgh report that they have successfully trained monkeys to feed themselves using a robotic arm controlled by a brain-computer interface (BCI).  The study has been covered extensively in the media, and I've written quite a lot about these devices in the past, so, rather than elaborate on it here, I'll refer you to my previous posts, and to this post by Ed at Not Exactly Rocket Science.  

However, I suggest that the new study is somewhat overhyped in some of the news stories that I've read. According to The Independent, for example, it is "a major breakthrough in the development of robotic prosthetic limbs." Actually, the study builds on research that began about 10 years ago, and in fact, John Donahue and his colleagues of Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, reported something similar with a human quadriplegic patient, nearly 2 years ago.

Although not revolutionary, the new study does make a significant advance on previous work: the monkeys were able to control the prosthesis far more accurately than was the quadrilegic patient in the 2006 study. Whereas the patient's control over the prosthesis was very limited, here the monkeys were able to perform more complex manoeuvers. They could, for example, quickly alter the trajectory of the robotic arm if the food reward was moved unexpectedly.

Related:


Velliste, M., et al. (2008). Cortical control of a prosthetic arm for self-feeding. Nature. doi: 10.1038/nature06996. [Abstract]

Hochberg, L. R., et al. (2006). Neuronal ensemble control of prosthetic devices by a human with tetraplegia. Nature 442: 164-171. [Abstract

More like this

The realm of science-fiction has just taken a big stride towards the world of science fact, with the creation of a prosthetic arm that can be moved solely by thought. Two monkeys, using only electrodes implanted in their brains, were able to feed themselves with the robotic arm complete with…
This film clip describes how neuroscientists have controlled the movements of a humanoid robot using a brain-computer interface (BCI) embedded in the motor cortex of a monkey. I've written about BCIs before, so I won't go into details here. For more information about how they work, follow the…
Researchers from the University of Washington have demonstrated that paralysed monkeys can move using a simple neuroprosthesis consisting of an external electrical circuit which connects individual neurons in the motor cortex to muscles in the arm. Similar prostheses have been used to move…
One of the bigger challenges facing researchers who are developing artificial limbs is to create prostheses that not only act but also feel like real limbs. This is especially true for the hand, which is one of the most sensitive parts of the human body, and although advanced prosthetic hands with…