Monkeys Fighting Robots featured Image

The main picture is misleading, right? Well, we’re not too far off from it becoming a reality!

Dr. Nicho Hatsopoulos, in conjunction with a research team at the University of Chicago, have laid the groundwork on how amputees can learn to control a robotic replacement arm through electrodes implanted in the brain. The study was published via Nature Communications.

Previous studies over the years have shown how paralyzed patients use an interface to move robotic limbs, though this is one of the first tests to speak to the viability of the devices in amputees as well.

The research discovered, through changes in both sides of the brain, it is possible to control both the remaining limb as well as the amputated one.

For the study, three rhesus monkeys that had suffered injuries while young, which had limbs removed at 4-years-old, 9-years and 10, were trained to use the robotic arm and ultimately to grasp a ball using only their thoughts.

Monkeys Fight … er, Controlling Robots (With Their Brains) 1

Two of the monkeys had implanted electrode arrays placed on the side of the brain opposite the amputated limb (contralateral side), while the third had them placed on the same side (ipsilateral side).

Monkeys Fight … er, Controlling Robots (With Their Brains) 2

Results

Contralateral Side: Neurons were sparse before training, but gradually became increasingly dense with training.

Ipsilateral Side: The connections were dense at the beginning of the experiments only.

What does this prove, you ask? Well, the results of both tests, along with a mathematical model used to calculate how neurons connected to each other during experiments, once the monkeys mastered activity, may prove that, one day, humans may be able to use the same methods to control prosthetic limbs.

It’s only a matter of time …

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This isn’t the first time that monkeys have controlled robots mentally. Check out the links below.

CBS News (2003): https://www.cbsnews.com/news/monkey-mind-power-moves-robot/

CNN (2008): http://www.cnn.com/2008/TECH/science/05/29/monkey.robots/index.html

Spectrum (2010): https://spectrum.ieee.org/automaton/robotics/medical-robots/060210-monkey-controls-advanced-robot-using-its-mind

The Verge (2013): https://www.theverge.com/2013/2/22/4016570/monkey-mentally-controls-robot-7000-miles-away

Motherboard (2014): https://motherboard.vice.com/en_us/article/pgaa37/scientists-hacked-monkey-brains-to-electronically-control-their-decisions

PBS (2015): http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/next/body/brain-linked-monkeys-form-super-organism-deftly-control-robotic-arm/

The Guardian (2016): https://www.theguardian.com/science/2016/mar/03/monkeys-taught-to-control-robotic-wheelchair-by-thought-alone

The Register (2017): https://www.theregister.co.uk/2017/11/28/monkeys_robot_arm_control/

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Michael is a New England native and fluent in Italian. He graduated with a B.A. in Broadcast Journalism (RTVF) from Auburn University. He is a BIG fan of the Boston sports scene, X-Men and X-Force. He loves his black lab (named Yaz), pop culture, science, space and gaming. He's also a crossfitter, paddleboarder and marathoner.