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Biotech Science

Monkeys Adapt Robot Arm as Their Own 61

FiReaNGeL writes "Neurobiologists from the Duke University Medical Center are training monkeys to use their brain signals to control a robotic arm; but they are not just learning to manipulate an external device. Rather, "their brain structures are adapting to treat the arm as if it were their own appendage", via a brain-implanted chip. "The finding has profound implications both for understanding the extraordinary adaptability of the primate brain and for the potential clinical success of brain-operated devices to give the handicapped the ability to control their environment", said the researchers. Read the story here with full details."
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Monkeys Adapt Robot Arm as Their Own

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  • by TripMaster Monkey ( 862126 ) * on Wednesday May 11, 2005 @10:52AM (#12498813)

    I for one welcome our new bionic simian overlords.
  • by crlove ( 857212 ) on Wednesday May 11, 2005 @10:52AM (#12498816) Journal
    Damn, dirty apes....
  • I wonder.... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Sewer Panda ( 812292 ) on Wednesday May 11, 2005 @10:54AM (#12498850) Homepage
    ...was there a particular reason they were working with two female monkeys? Are they less aggressive and easier to work with or are they more adaptable than male monkeys? Either way, this is an amazing discovery.
  • These experiments already run for years. I even submitted a story about them but was rejected.
    Still... I want to have a cybernetic arm, or eight..., please.
  • I know one of the guys working on this!

    Just wait until we plug into mechs with this technology. Sweet.
  • Repeat (Score:3, Informative)

    by wonkavader ( 605434 ) on Wednesday May 11, 2005 @11:27AM (#12499212)
    We've looked at this already: 8/2111225&tid=191&tid=14 []

    It's a funding-by-media trick -- it generates buzz, but they've got a switch which moves an arm, and a single neuron controlling the on off. From down, to up. No control. You could also say "Monkey uses mind to start a car!" using the same single neuron to control a remote starter. Or "monkey controls gun!" by putting a solenoid on a trigger. Both would play well, but then you wouldn't get that nice picture of an arm moving.

    There's no real science, here, just an application of 30 year old-tech.

    Disclaimer: I'm basing this on my general distrust and what I am NOT seeing written here.

    • Re:Repeat (Score:2, Insightful)

      by alfboggis ( 528706 )

      I think that while this research has been ongoing for some time, the article is highlighting a new interpretation -- that our brains control external "peripherals" (tools, tennis rackets) the same way they control built-in "peripherals" (hands, arms...), and can switch "drivers" on the fly...

      "This finding supports our theory that the brain has extraordinary abilities to adapt to incorporate artificial tools, whether directly controlled by the brain or through the appendages" said Nicolelis. "Our brain

    • Re:Repeat (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward
      but they've got a switch which moves an arm, and a single neuron controlling the on off.

      While it is good to be suspicious of flashy results, you're incorrect in this case. The monkeys achieved two degree-of-freedom control over the velocity of the actuator using a population of their neurons. And another study has demonstrated three degree-of-freedom control in a similar preparation. This is far from a one-bit switch.

    • Re:Repeat (Score:4, Interesting)

      by BillyBlaze ( 746775 ) <> on Wednesday May 11, 2005 @01:07PM (#12500470)
      Even if it's entirely as simple as you say it is, it's still pretty amazing. First, it shows that an individual neuron can be conciously controlled and used to do useful things. And it's developying technology for interfacing with that neuron. And if it can be done with one neuron, surely it can be done with several, and eventually enough to haev very natural control of a robotic limb.

      Or, personally more interesting to me, it could be used as a very high-bandwidth connection between a computer and me. (Which could be general enough to allow me to control a robotic limb, or even robotic body, just as I control a video-game character, only better (as I could give more fine-grained input faster and more naturally.)

      • Re:Repeat (Score:4, Informative)

        by dmaduram ( 790744 ) on Wednesday May 11, 2005 @03:04PM (#12501864) Homepage

        more interesting to me, it could be used as a very high-bandwidth connection between a computer and me.

        This has already been done several times, both at a low-bandwidth level (electrodes on the skull, done several years ago), and a high-bandwidth level (implanting an electrode directly in the neocortex, done in 2000)

        If you're interested in this stuff, you should check out this journal article - PDF Reprint []

        Kennedy PR, Bakay RAE, Moore MM, Adams K, Goldwaithe J. 2000. Direct control of a computer from the human central nervous system. IEEE Trans. Rehabil. Eng. 8:198-202

        Here's the abstract, if you don't want to wade through the PDF:

        We describe an invasive alternative to externally applied brain-computer interface (BCI) devices. This system requires implantation of a special electrode into the outer layers of the human neocortex. The recorded signals are transmitted to a nearby receiver and processed to drive a cursor on a computer monitor in front of the patient. Our present patient has learned to control the cursor for the production of synthetic speech and typing.

    • Re:Repeat (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Gulthek ( 12570 ) on Wednesday May 11, 2005 @02:03PM (#12501135) Homepage Journal
      Ah, no. As stated in an earlier post I know one of the scientists working on this at Duke (Dook). The monkey learns to control the robot arm completely. That means precise, intentional movements. The *really* cool bit is that once the monkey realized it could control the robot arm it stopped using its own arm when it wasn't necessary. But don't take my word, I'll force you to RTFA []:

      The scientists next removed the joystick, after which the monkeys continued to move their arms in mid-air to manipulate and "grab" the cursor, thus controlling the robot arm. However, after a few days, the monkeys realized that they did not need to move their own arms. Their arm muscles went completely quiet, they kept the arm at their side, and they controlled the robot using only their brain and visual feedback.

      Does that sound like an on/off switch to you? You must have some freakin' awesome lights.

      "Mikhail's analysis of the brain signals associated with use of the robotic and animals' actual arms revealed that the animal was simultaneously doing one thing with its own arm and something else with the robotic arm," he said. "So, our hypothesis is that the adaptation of brain structures allows the expansion of capability to use an artificial appendage with no loss of function, because the animal can flip back and forth between using the two. Depending on the goal, the animal could use its own arm or the robotic arm, and in some cases both.

      Do you have any glimmering of how mind-bogglingly revolutionary this is? Can you think of any real world applications? No? Then there's even MORE. experiments in his laboratory seek to enable the brain to perceive a feedback sensation from neuroprosthetic devices. Such feedback might be in the form of visual information on the effects of moving a robotic arm. Or, it might be tactile feedback fed as signals into electrodes implanted in the brain.

      Such feedback would greatly enhance people's ability to learn and use the devices, said Nicolelis. Also, such feedback would expand use of neuroprosthetics to amputees, because the devices would include all the features -- including feedback -- of real appendages.

      Goodbye loss of hand, hello Luke Skywalker robot arm! Or robotic surgery where surgeons could actually feel what their scapels are cutting. Or soldiers mentally controlling battle droids. Get the toughness of metal with the adaptability of the human mind! Or don't just drive, plug in and really feel the car operate. You could get neurological feedback on any problems the car might be developing. Or just use the interface to get awesome control.

      They have ****** shown that the mind can incorporate a robotic appendage and use it in addition to the ones we already have! How is this not groundbreaking research in psychology, physics, biology, etc? Even Philosophy! What does it mean that our sense of self is so easily extended?
      • You're right, this is great. What the BBC reported, and what MSNBC wrote did not at all get what is important about this -- assuming we'd all see Buck Rogers in between the lines. What I saw by lack of detail was simplicity.

        It's rare that there actually IS Buck Rogers in there. Thanks for the Duke Med News pointer.
      • I'm just waiting to see if they can get the monkey to use all three arms at once in a coordinated fashion. That would be pretty awesome.
      • "Or robotic surgery where surgeons could actually feel what their scalpels are cutting. Or soldiers mentally controlling battle droids. Get the toughness of metal with the adaptability of the human mind! Or don't just drive, plug in and really feel the car operate. You could get neurological feedback on any problems the car might be developing. Or just use the interface to get awesome control."

        I for one do not like the idea of getting electrodes implanted in my brain just to drive a car!
        We already have a g
          • We already have a good interface for driving cars. They are called hands and feet.

          No, that's not a "good interface". It may be the best we can do at this time, but it definitely isn't a very good interface.

          For starters, drivers don't have individual control of every wheel, so there's need for all kinds of electronic assitants (ABS, EBD, DSC, ESP, ASR, pick your three letter acronym) to do that for you when such control is useful. And an important reason for not having all wheels turning in productio

      • Personally, I'm thrilled to think that this might be taken even further: could a brain learn to control an entire robotic body, based on the feedback it receives?

        Could it be an abitrarily-shaped body (number of eyes, wings vs. arms, etc.), or is there something "built in" to our brains that it works only (or at least best) with the 4 limbs/1 head setup? (I realize not all life forms have this setup, but could a brain that has evolved to work with a certain setup learn to work with another setup?)

        Aside fro
    • ...but they've got a switch which moves an arm, and a single neuron controlling the on off. From down, to up. No control. You could also say "Monkey uses mind to start a car!" using the same single neuron to control a remote starter.

      Really. That's [] not what it looks like to me.
  • by Eunuch ( 844280 ) * on Wednesday May 11, 2005 @11:31AM (#12499255)
    Interesting neuroscience with obvious transhuman/singularity applications always seem to be directed towards the "disabled". I even remember one scientist being quite happy at the prospect of a handicapped person being able to be employed "by using email". So to get grants they need to let loose more spammers??? Compared to what we'll become, we are plenty disabled already. It'd be nice to have someone who's actually working on these things to mention transhumanism.
    • Working to reduce/negate disabilitys == (politically) safe == broader support == better chance of funding. Transhumanism == (politically) dangerous == much less public support == lower chance of funding. Of course with the transhuman route you can always go to the military who may well give you pots of cash to research with [like the chaps who have (kinda) got cameras for the blind working]
      • by Eunuch ( 844280 ) *
        And it's not just funding. Either religious types will go after you for using humans or environmental types will go after you for using monkeys and such. But, what about you. Do you support transhumanism? I sure do, and wish I could donate for it. Best I can think of is the Singularity Institute.
    • Well, if you're going to make healthy people better than they are, it is only fair to use this technology to help the disabled people first. If a bunch of people are stranded on an island, but a few of them are not only stuck on the island but have been kidnapped by natives and are being tortured, it's natural to rescue them before even thinking about getting everyone back to civilization.
      • You can either rescue the kidnapped people and put them on the shore, or take some people (kidnapped or not!) to civilization. There they can talk to the civilization to get everyone over there.
  • See, the real news in this is-

    I'm going to get a mind-piloted Evangelion someday!
    • I'm going to get a mind-piloted Evangelion someday!

      No you're not. You're too old. Some irritating teenager's going to get a mind-piloted Evangelion and won't even appreciate it. The best you can hope for is to be one of those guys in Central Dogma whose job it is to look terribly shocked whenever a new and more powerful monster turns up to whack the crap out of Tokyo-3.

      But, then again... you get to hang around with Maya and she's pretty cool and I don't believe any of the rumours about her at all. And

  • After millions of us have seen the Hitchhiker's Guide movie, third arms (for skiboxing) will become popular - undoubtedly mostly among men, who go in for such technofetishism. Inevitably, women will go for third breasts, to maintain parity ("triality"?), and close the "grope gap". But, in the tradition of balking at the labor that backs sex innovations, like blowjobs, women won't accept the extra work in maintaining a third interactive nipple. The remote-control groundwork we see in this article offers the
  • I for one... (Score:1, Redundant)

    by charlie763 ( 529636 )
    I for one welcome our robotic arm wielding monkey overlords.
  • Well I do look forward to being mugged by a super strong handicapped person in the future.
  • BE the car. That would feel really cool.
    • I don't understand. In what sense would it be different from the current situation? At the moment, if I want to turn left, something happens in my brain, a signal gets sent to my arms, they turn the steering wheel, and the car turns. With a direct neural connection, if I want to turn left, something happens in my brain, a signal gets sent to the car, and the car turns. In what way do these experiences differ apart from the fact that in one case your arms move? Would you feel more like 'being' the car if you
      • I might be veering off topic, but I think the parts of our bodies feel like part of ourselves because that neural connection is a 2-way. I was interpreting the story to mean that if the monkey perceives the robotic arm as as much a part of himself as his biological arms, that there must be direct feedback from the robotic arm to the monkey's brain. Imagine the tires on the road or a tap on the bumper creating a direct tactile sensation in your mind. Wouldn't the parts of the car then feel like they were par
        • Yes. I guess that if you got feedback it would feel pretty cool.

          But many people already feel that they are at one with their tools. Similarly, people with prosthetic limbs can sometimes feel that they really are their limbs. There are many factors that go into defining your body image, getting feedback is just one of them. In some cases you can feel that your own limb isn't part of your body even though it clearly is (eg. see various books by Oliver Sacks). I've already had one (neurally unmodified) frien

  • For those interested, a much more informative description of Schwartz et. al.'s research can be found at his lab paper reprint section [] (click on on the second title from the top - "Schwartz, A.B.: Cortical neural prostheses, Ann. Rev. Neurosci. 27:487-507, 2004.")

    Just to give my two cents, this is cool stuff, but it's not that big of a deal when compared with prior research:

    "Investigators have demonstrated the potential of this technology in humans patients with the cone electrode (Kennedy et al. 2000)

  • I hope those monkeys lost their arms of natural causes.
  • Now we will be forced to look at pictures of moneys scratching themselves with 3 and 4 arms... wow their balls must really itch...
  • atrophy (Score:2, Interesting)

    by denidoom ( 865832 )
    I wonder if in an extreme case would the use of normal limbs become difficult? Kind of like when you're in zero g your muscles atrophy. If we did have this 'mind control' ability for machines/tools, would we lose dexterity and motor skills?

This process can check if this value is zero, and if it is, it does something child-like. -- Forbes Burkowski, CS 454, University of Washington