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Biotech Science

Robotic Arm Controlled By Monkey Thoughts 327

mallumax writes "The BBC reports that Pittsburgh University scientists have succeeded in creating a robotic arm, controlled by probes inserted into the brain of monkeys. The probes interpret signals from individual nerve cells in the motor cortex. Monkeys were able to grasp and hold food with the robotic arm. Since the number of nerve signals for even small movements is huge the scientists used an averaging algorithm to obtain the movement signals."
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Robotic Arm Controlled By Monkey Thoughts

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday February 18, 2005 @07:30PM (#11718189)
    That's my monkey controlled robot arm's hand on your ass.
  • Tool use? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by wind river ( 841704 ) on Friday February 18, 2005 @07:31PM (#11718198)
    Wouldn't this also be a sign that monkeys are capable of fairly sophisticated tool use?
    • Re:Tool use? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Richie1984 ( 841487 ) on Friday February 18, 2005 @07:33PM (#11718235)
      That's not the impression I got. It seems more like the monkey was moving the tool as if it were it's own limb, i.e. the moneky tried to move its hand and the tool moved instead. If this is the case, all it shows is that monkeys can control their own limbs.
      • Re:Tool use? (Score:2, Informative)

        by rm999 ( 775449 )
        But using tools for us humans is almost as natural as using our hands. Maybe thats true for monkeys too. Perhaps the only thing that is stopping a monkey from using a tool is the lack of opposable thumbs.

        • But using tools for us humans is almost as natural as using our hands.

          Is it? We are only just beginning to scrape the surface of what makes us human. Language aquisition, for example, is a much debated surface, as no one can be 100% how we start to learn to communicate. Likewise, just because we have the ability to use tools, does that mean that it's a natural process? Or does our upbringing and factors from society teach us to do this?
        • Well, we'll find out how humans compare when using robotic arms as soon as they begin "Human trails".

          Methinks the monkey also helped copyedit the article.
        • You'd be amazed what apes can do. I saw an orangutan at the zoo. Some people had thrown popcorn onto the ground (a sloped hillside) outside the cage just out of reach. This ape had a big canvas rag that he pulled through the chain link fence, then swung the rag to knock the popcorn down the hill where he could grab it. Maybe he was a genius ape.
        • Re:Tool use? (Score:4, Informative)

          by daddymac ( 244954 ) <cory@cor y o n l> on Friday February 18, 2005 @10:26PM (#11719489) Homepage
          lack of opposable thumbs.
          Uhhh, except that some monkey do have opposable thumbs, so it can't be the "only" thing. Read the faq (number 23):
    • by Eunuch ( 844280 ) *
      Remember they are using the tool like they would use their own arm. Monkeys already can grasp--having opposable thumbs.
    • Sure, if the monkey built the arm himself. Otherwise it isn't much more than using a stick to whack another monkey around.

      That is some high-tech-poo-flinging right there.
    • Re:Tool use? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by glowimperial ( 705397 ) on Friday February 18, 2005 @07:35PM (#11718252) Homepage
      I would think that there is plenty of non-robotic evidence that monkeys use and make simple tools, are skilled and knowledgable in their use and pass tool knowledge from individual to individual already in the wild. Monkeys have been trained to operate tools and devices before this, both in and out of laboratory settings. I wouldn't consider this a breakthrough or in any way revealing about monkeys, I would consider it more of a robotic/hapic/man-machine interface breakthrough.
    • Wouldn't this also be a sign that monkeys are capable of fairly sophisticated tool use?

      Indeed it would, and the implications are frightening. Imagine steroid-enhanced cyborg chimpanzee super-soldiers high on crystal meth.

      Try dangling a bunch of bananas in front of that cage.

      • American Mecha-Monkey Marines, the most potent weapon in the fight against terrorism!

        "Run! They've mastered tool use!"
        • by Cylix ( 55374 ) *
          Sounds like the premise for a good cartoon or video game.

          Though we'll need to modify the title a bit and put them into space.

          In the end, I have to say it...

          I for one, welcome our new Mecha-Monkey Marine Overlords.

          Ye Gads! That's the title...
    • Yeah! It's a sign that monkeys can pick up food with their arms and transfer it to their mouths! A stunning discovery!!!!
    • Only when he installs his own implants to use the robot arm.
    • Re:Tool use? (Score:3, Informative)

      by iamlucky13 ( 795185 )
      This is actually more like using an existing arm rather than learning to use a tool. We all had to go through a process of learning to use our own arms when we were babies. Our neurons carry the signals from our brains to our muscles and the muscles react according to the signal. We unconsciously figured out during our infancy what signals made our muscles do particular movements. In this case, the neurons interface with tiny electrodes that pick up the signals and a computer translates them into instructio
    • ...that scientists are getting fairly sophisticated at using monkeys.
  • by Eunuch ( 844280 ) *
    "The inventors believe it could help people who have lost limb function through disease or trauma." Why are all these types of enhancements framed in terms of the disabled? We are disabled. Why must we hunger, breath air, thirst, sleep? I wonder if these researchers are just giving the public this. Can they see the obvious leap to transhumanism?
    • We're doomed (Score:3, Insightful)

      by cyberwiz01 ( 745827 )
      Besides the obvious addition of extra limbs a la Doc Oc from Spiderman, imagine what it would be like if everyday people had loads of mechanical limbs. As if drivers on cell phones werent bad enough. Now people can drive, talk on the phone, type something on their laptop, eat, and read the newspaper at the same time.
      • Re:We're doomed (Score:3, Interesting)

        by 3770 ( 560838 )
        I'm guessing that the brain only can handle two arms. You could have an extra limb, but it would perfectly mimic either the left or the right arm.

        Or your left or right leg, or maybe the arm could mimic one of your fingers. But I don't think that you can have a robotic limb which which is completely independend from all your existing limbs.

        Maybe if you got the robotic limb when you were a baby.
        • Why would you think that? You obviously have no children. A newborne babies brain can handly approximately 0 arms/lets/appendages. They can't even really focus their eyes. All of that is learned behavior which comes to them slowly through months and years of practice.

          For example, the brain of an average human hasn't learned to control the legs enough to walk until somewhere around 1 year old.
        • I'm guessing that the brain only can handle two arms. You could have an extra limb, but it would perfectly mimic either the left or the right arm.

          Douglas Adams figured that out years ago -- that's why Zaphod has the second head.
        • I think you're viewing the brain's muscle control like dedicated hardware ports in a PC - this parellel port is only for printers, that ps/2 port is only for keyboards, this ps/2 port is only for mice, etc. But that's not how the brain's controls function. It's more like USB - here's some ports. Learn what they're connected to, and then in software decide how to manipulate them.

          The brain's control of muscles is mostly learned. There is some pre-configured default settings at "the factory", but they are
        • I think you might be wrong:

          They've succesfully implated chips which, after intensive training, allow humans (and monkeys) to control various things by thought.

          Initially it's difficult to operate. you think of something like "the color red", and it moves left. but after a while, your mind learns to just do it. Sort of like people recovering from a stroke...
      • >Now people can drive, talk on the phone, type something on their laptop, eat, and read the newspaper at the same time.

        Or, considering the "averaging" in the algorithm, imagine them typing on the newspaper, turning their laptop to the right, talking to the steering wheel, shoving the cellphone in their mouth, and careening off the road.
  • For one armed monkeys.
  • by BlurredWeasel ( 723480 ) on Friday February 18, 2005 @07:31PM (#11718212)
    As long as the monkey doesn't have a nipple fetish [] I think we'll be fine.
    • You beat me to posting that link.

      I just want to say that the case mentioned by the parent posting will probably be the first time in legal history that anyone pleads innoncen on the grounds that, 'The monkey made me do it'.
  • by Chairboy ( 88841 ) on Friday February 18, 2005 @07:32PM (#11718219) Homepage
    Is there such thing as an obligatory Sealab 2021 quote yet?

    News Anchor: Scientists have successfully transplanted little Jango's brain into a robot monkey body. on a sad note, however, Jambo died late last night after drinking his own urine.

    Sparks: Hey, Skip. What do you think about all this robot stuff?

    Murphy: Why? Are we under attack?!

    Sparks: No..but that robot monkey on the news..

    Murphy: You're kidding! That guy's a robot monkey?
    • .. or how about:

      Murphy: Not if he's surrounded by bananas! I mean, look at him, he's in heaven.
      Stormy: No, look! He's doing it. He's going for help.
      Murphy: No he's not. He-
      * Jango enters carrying monkey porn
      Stormy: Jango, put that down!
      Murphy: I told you he'd find it.
  • by rueba ( 19806 ) * on Friday February 18, 2005 @07:33PM (#11718228)
    See here: tml

    It seems he does joint work with CMU but his official position is at UPitt(as we sometimes call it).
    • by Anonymous Coward
      This work is *OLD*. Take a look at the Boston Arm for examples of why it doesn't work well. The electrodes cannot yet be permanently linked to small enough numbers of neurons to prevent huge amounts of signal noise, and you get a minimum of half a second of phase delay in the control systems to average out the noise. And the smaller you make the electrodes, the higher the impedance of the electrode, which also reduces your available signal level and potentially lowers your signal/noise.

      Mechanical arms read
  • Don't give monkey knives or guns. Just give them robotic arms a-la-Robocop!
  • by andy314159pi ( 787550 ) on Friday February 18, 2005 @07:33PM (#11718231) Journal
    The following is an acceptable question to ask:
    "Should we really be attaching electronics to monkey neurons?"
    • by Richie1984 ( 841487 ) on Friday February 18, 2005 @07:37PM (#11718281)
      That raises the question "is animal reseach acceptable if it benefits a larger number of humans?", which is a debate beyond the scope of this article, in my opinion. There's no indication that any animals were harmed in the process, and there's no mention whether there is any lasting damage, or if the proceedure is reversable. But, if I were going to use the technology, I personally would like the answers to those questions beforehand.
      • monkeys are a natural resource put on this planet for humans to expend, just like oil and iron. now where can we go to war to get more monkeys...
      • >There's no indication that any animals were harmed in the process

        'cept for "inserting probes into brains" ?

        I'd prefer this kind of thing was done on humans and with non-invasive probes, but this is probably better (it had better be to jusify the use of animals like this).
        • "Inserting probes into the brain" doesnt mean that the animals were harmed. It's a surgical proceedure. Ok, it's a long shot, but we still aren't sure either way whether there was lasting damage. Hopefully, there wasn't.
          • Who cares? If there was damage, breed another monkey and try again.

            You guys are downright bizzare with your ethical conundrums. Are you all vegans, too?
            • Personally, I grew up in a househould where we had a lot of animals, especially dogs. While these animals were certainly nowhere near as intelligent as we were, they certainly had their own individual personalities and traits. As a result, I just don't really like the idea of animal testing if harm comes to the animal.
              • I've toured several labs and met several animals used in neuroscience research--owls, rats, cats, monkeys, bats, etc. I've never got the impression that they experienced a substantial amount of pain. They all seemed perfectly normal except for the odd bit of metal sticking out of their heads.

                This kind of research takes a lot of time investment in individual animals--training takes a lot of one-on-one involvement, and scientists are no less likely than anyone else to form bonds with creatures they care for.
          • Mmmh... My post seems to have gone to /dev/whoknows, so here goes again (sorry for my n00bness if it turns out a dupe, but I have corrected it :):

            I've seen similar experiments at Med School, and they involved "population vectors" too, back in 1998-99.

            That's right, it's a pretty much painless procedure (according to our perception of the animal's reaction), and it's performed in a safe and sterile fashion.

            The probes are really fine needles, much less than a millimeter in diameter. They don't cause p
      • There's no indication that any animals were harmed in the process, and there's no mention whether there is any lasting damage, or if the proceedure is reversable.
        But we can intuit something from the fact that they used monkeys rather than people in the first place.
        • Not really. You don't do any kind of experiment on humans unless you really have to. Even simple non-invasive experiments on humans require extensive preapproval through ethics committees, at many research institutions. Animal experiments are much easier to get approval for.
      • The tricky thing with that question is that the research cannot be known to benefit humans until the decision to harm the monkeys is alredy made. If a technique was KNOWN to work, it wouldn't be necessary to test it on monkeys. The way research works, it tends to fail more often than it succeeds (that's normal), and so there are many cases where the monkey harm had no human benefit. Short-sighted people can look at those individual cases and try to make the argument that in those cases it was wrong. But
      • There's no indication that any animals were harmed in the process

        oooohh.... why didn't they try it on humans first then?
  • This is all well and good until some scientist accidentally fuzes 4 arms to himself and goes mad, rampaging through the city and hatching evil plots...

    oh the horror.
  • Robot Monkey Arms flings robot poo!!
  • by DaFallus ( 805248 ) on Friday February 18, 2005 @07:35PM (#11718250)
    "In this world gone mad, we won't spank the monkey, the monkey will spank us."
  • people experimented with monkey thoughts []
  • I'm still trying to figure out if they're talking about the University of Pittsburgh, which has a rather well-known medical program, or Carnegie Mellon University (which would be a Pittsburgh University) which is world famous for its robotics program. Anyone? Bueller?
  • Could tissue growth be suppressed locally, maybe by having a supply of some anti-growth factor dispensed from the (possibly porous) probes? It would still have to be replenished; but undesirable side effects (suppressing tissue growth elsewhere) could be eliminated or mitigated and the probes could last much longer.
  • by saddino ( 183491 ) on Friday February 18, 2005 @07:38PM (#11718290)
    shit at blindingly fast speeds. Ex-cellent.
  • Holy shit! We're giving those evil little fuckers cyborg capabilities to go with their brains, opposable thumbs, and tails?!!
    NASA wants us all dead! NASA sent up monkeys - are they all accounted for? NASA sent up robots - where are they now? We can defeat the monkeys. We can defeat the robots. But NOT AT THE SAME TIME!
    • I, for one, welcome our new evil cyborg-monkey overlords. And the obligatory responses on /. that follow.

      "This robot arm smells like burning Rhesus Monkey!"

      "Really? Well, when you're around it all day I guess you stop noticing."
  • Graft (Score:2, Funny)

    So when this tech matures will they be able to attatch a 3rd arm to my back so i can scratch my ass without distracting me from other activities. cool, but where would i buy shirts?
    • Oh no you won't.
      When you have three arms you will keep one (the artificial, carpal tunnel proof one) on the mouse and the others on the keyboard. You'll need a fourth. And when four hands becomes normal, they'll invent three-handed keyboards.
  • by bcmm ( 768152 ) on Friday February 18, 2005 @07:41PM (#11718323)
    we can teach them to type!
    This will do wonders for the quality of discussion on Slashdot. CmdrTaco, if your reading this, please give extra mod points to non-human /.ers.
  • At Pittsburgh University, the monkey spanks you!

  • This item is very old, I remember it from last summer or spring. It is however, a very awesome achievement.
  • by mdxi ( 3387 ) on Friday February 18, 2005 @07:43PM (#11718340) Homepage
    The article says the team's biggest problem is that after about 6 months tissue grown begins to interfere with transmission of signals to the probe.

    This will no doubt limit the adoption of monkey cyborgs in RTOS and embedded spaces, and proves the old adage, "Always mount a scratch monkey".
  • And... (Score:5, Funny)

    by ZeroConcept ( 196261 ) on Friday February 18, 2005 @07:44PM (#11718352)
    When given pen and paper, it wrote down:

    "Developers, developers, developers!!!!"
  • by Kohath ( 38547 ) on Friday February 18, 2005 @07:47PM (#11718382)
    I don't know about you, but I'd rather have a monkey arm controlled by robot thoughts.
  • Human Testing (Score:2, Informative)

    by ghobbsus ( 833550 )
    According to a Popular Science article on the subject, several humans have already undergone similar treatments, allowing them to control a computer mouse by thought. In addition, scientists were able to use a weak FM transmitter to circumvent uncomfortable wiring.
  • OMG look at the moderation on this article. As of now, only three posts are visible under default settings. WTF?!!
  • I, for one, welcome our new monkey overlords.

    -Waldo Jaquith
  • will soon give away to no-handed typing :-)
  • I know where I'm casting my vote for the most dada-esque Slashdot headline *evar*.
  • I'm guessing the first use of that arm was to fling a whole lot of feces.
  • Links and more info (Score:3, Informative)

    by FleaPlus ( 6935 ) on Friday February 18, 2005 @08:18PM (#11718656) Journal
    First off, it's the University of Pittsburgh, not Pittsburgh University.

    The actual web site for Schwartz's lab: []

    The above link has neat videos [] of the monkey moving the arm around.

    Researchers like Schwartz who record from motor areas of the brain do cool stuff, but I'm personally more interested in folks like the Andersen Lab [] who do recording from more goal-oriented areas. Basically, it's a difference between a command to "move my elbow this much" versus "I want to grab this object."

    Here's a PDF link [] to a paper published by Schwartz and others in 2002. Here's the abstract:

    Direct Cortical Control of 3D Neuroprosthetic Devices

    Dawn M. Taylor, Stephen I. Helms Tillery, Andrew B. Schwartz

    Three-dimensional (3D) movement of neuroprosthetic devices can be controlled by the activity of cortical neurons when appropriate algorithms are used to decode intended movement in real time. Previous studies assumed that neurons maintain fixed tuning properties, and the studies used subjects who were unaware of the movements predicted by their recorded units. In this study, subjects had real-time visual feedback of their brain-controlled trajectories. Cell tuning properties changed when used for brain-controlled movements. By using control algorithms that track these changes, subjects made long sequences of 3D movements using far fewer cortical units than expected. Daily practice improved movement accuracy and the directional tuning of these units.

  • He is more machine than monkey now, twisted and evil.
  • I for one welcome our robotic simian poo flinging overlords.
  • monkey in "hooked on Monkey Phonics" that masturbates instead of helping Cartman spell "chair" []
  • No doubt they will soon be flinging robotic poo. What bold advances science makes.
  • I was watching the Discovery channel awhile ago (probably close to a year, if not more) and saw something that may have related to this research. The scientists began by giving the monkeys a joystick (or mouse, memory is hazy) and when the monkeys moved the cursor to a box on the screen they would receive a treat. Then they took away the control and wired the monkey's brain so that (s)he could simply use thought to control the cursor on the screen. Apparently this was done by thinking of the same movemen
  • Finally! We can get an infinite number of monkeys in an infinitely large room with an infinite number of typewriters and have all the works of Shakespeare produced. [*]

    [*] Unfortunately research has shown they tend to fixate on one or two keys.

Marvelous! The super-user's going to boot me! What a finely tuned response to the situation!