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Biotech Robotics Science

Brain Interface Lets Monkeys Control Prosthetic Limbs 208

himicos was one of many readers to point out one recent success of scientists working to develop working brain-machine interfaces, writing "A team at the university of Pittsburgh has finally advanced a 2002 technology enough for use in prosthetic limbs, the targeted application all along. Training computer models to the firing patterns of the neurons in the parts of the brain that control motion, they are able to project the intentions of a monkey to a robotic arm, which follows the will of the animal. The sad thing about the articles is that the beauty of the mathematics used to create and train the models is totally ignored." Reader phpmysqldev adds a link to coverage at the BBC, and writes "This of course brings significant hope to amputees and other other people with physical disabilities." (Note that this research has been going on for quite some time.)
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Brain Interface Lets Monkeys Control Prosthetic Limbs

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  • sci-fi pondering (Score:2, Interesting)

    by OrochimaruVoldemort ( 1248060 ) on Thursday May 29, 2008 @09:28AM (#23585293) Journal
    if/when we invent lightsabers, we should have the robotic limb problem solved. other than that, this should help paralyzed people move again
  • Almost (Score:3, Interesting)

    by speroni ( 1258316 ) on Thursday May 29, 2008 @09:59AM (#23585685) Homepage
    Almost in time for our war with largest incident of severed limbs due to IED's.

    I knew a guy in college who was working in this field. He went on to do master's work at Cornell. Incidentally he had no arms.

    This will be great to improve the standard of living for many of the returning soldiers.
  • OMG Old! (Score:2, Interesting)

    by ggalvao ( 1000487 ) on Thursday May 29, 2008 @10:21AM (#23585937)
    Miguel Nicolelis is doing this kind of job and seems to be much more advanced. [] He actually made a monkey in the US control a robot in Japan by walking on a treadmill. The monkey had a screen showing the robot. After realizing that she (the monkey) could actually move the robot by thinking, she developed in her brain something that enabled her to control the robot and not have to walk herself. Thus, she could earn the rewards and not have to spend her energy. Very interesting stuff.
  • by RevWaldo ( 1186281 ) on Thursday May 29, 2008 @10:30AM (#23586071)
    Back in the early 80s there was major buzz about using computers to restore movement to people paralyzed by spinal injuries. In a nutshell, a computer would send properly sequenced jolts to the person's leg muscles, enabling them to walk. In tests this more or less worked. The electronics at the time were too big to make it practical but the hope was that in the future (now) computers would be portable and powerful enough to do the job. I recall a number of hopeful reports on "60 Minutes" regarding this research, and even a TV movie about the researcher leading the effort. But all this seems to have fallen off the radar.

    Anyone have the straight dope on this research? Because if it does work it stands to reason that if a person could control an artificial limb with their thoughts controlling real limbs would also be possible.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 29, 2008 @11:29AM (#23586925)
    The mental map can easily be extended, however controlling them simultaneously could be extraordinarely hard to learn - you'd learn quickly to operate any extra limb because of the mental map, but the synchronity of the limbs would be built on the idea of four limbs.

    Which, ironically, would be easier to learn if you were born quadraplegic.

    I, for one, welcome our new previously-quadraplegic cyborg overlords.
  • by crymeph0 ( 682581 ) on Thursday May 29, 2008 @11:50AM (#23587243)
    But in this case, the monkey was trained to use the robotic arm not as a replacement for a missing arm, but as an entirely new arm. That is, even though the apparatus was similar to an existing limb, the brain still had to learn to control a brand new limb independently from the old ones. If nothing else, this means we can give ourselves at least a third arm, and probably more. The brain is fairly malleable, and I bet with training, we could adapt ourselves to a wide variety of "appendage upgrades".

    Of course, because of the "abomination before God" factor, nobody in the medical establishment will ask this question officially for years, if ever. But I'm sure some geek amputee will start playing around with modding his new arm/leg/ear, and if he doesn't turn into a bloodthirsty cyborg, or get lynched by fundamentalists, he'll become very rich and famous by enabling us to reach way beyond what we thought our full potential was.
  • by somersault ( 912633 ) on Thursday May 29, 2008 @12:06PM (#23587499) Homepage Journal
    Didn't say it hadn't, but the colour and resolution on those things isn't going to be much use for watching a sunset :P
  • This is "old" news (Score:2, Interesting)

    by ittybad ( 896498 ) on Thursday May 29, 2008 @12:31PM (#23587857) Homepage
    I saw this technology on a video on either TLC or Discovery SEVERAL years ago. The monkey could move a robotic arm with its brain waves. Old news. On the same episode, they showed a fella moving a cursor on a computer screen with the same technique. Also cool, on that episode, was a prosthetic leg for a guy who had his amputated above the knee. They bolted a titanium socket into his femur that protruded out of the bottom of his "nub" that could "jack" into the prosthetic knee and leg. He could, in some fashion, sense touch on the prosthetic (vibrations or something up into his real leg).
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 29, 2008 @12:42PM (#23588049)
    If you consider the fact that you can fairly easily learn to use tools that pretty much work as an extension of yourself, I'd say that learning how to use an extra limb should not be a problem for our brain.

    I imagine it'd take a long time learning how to use it, though.
  • Re:Almost (Score:3, Interesting)

    by pizzach ( 1011925 ) <pizzach@gmail.cEEEom minus threevowels> on Thursday May 29, 2008 @01:46PM (#23589165) Homepage

    This will be great to improve the standard of living for many of the returning soldiers.

    You would be surprised how people adapt. For many amputees this is a non-issue, and they move on. The key is time and the correct mental attitude.

    I have a prostetic leg, but I like my crutches. I'm agile on my crutches. I can do interesting things on my crutches I can't with a real leg. If I had to choose between my artificial leg and crutches, there is a good chance I would choose my crutches.

    If you look at a person who has an amputated arm, if they go for a prosthesis it is often "the hook." It's because it's a damn lot more useful than a robotic arm. It feels like it is an extension of their body because they can count on it and have direct control. There are no battery, motor, or sensitivity problems.

    The people who more often get most hung up on these ideas of helping amputees be 'normal' again are the non-amputees. It's a visual thing that I think actually times make the problem worse. I want to punch anyone who brings up grafting donor appendages. I really do.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 29, 2008 @02:41PM (#23590027)
    You are forgetting that not a long time a go we had tails. In fact, we all have something left of it. Why would you think that our brain can not map a fifth limb anymore?
  • by susano_otter ( 123650 ) on Thursday May 29, 2008 @02:46PM (#23590123) Homepage
    A few years ago, a baboon snatched a live human baby, tore open its skull, and ate its brain, in full view of the baby's mother. A source [].

    Now, as a strict materialist, I see no reason to think that this baboon does--or should--feel any remorse for its actions. They were clearly the result of mindless evolutionary processes, just like your own feelings about animal experiments. You feel bad because your species' biological evolution compels you to feel bad. With any luck, it will also compel you to feel better, knowing that my own amused disdain for your feelings is also a simple biological compulsion.

panic: kernel trap (ignored)