July 14, 2009

Brain Power Allows Monkey To Move Robotic Arm

Electrodes implanted in the brain of a laboratory monkey have allowed the animal to control a robotic arm with great dexterity, researchers at the University of Pittsburgh reported on Tuesday.

Dr Andy Schwarz, of the university's department of neurobiology, said he foresees a large market for complex robotic limbs in patients who have suffered a stroke as well as those who have been paralyzed.

"What we're trying to do is go to a very dexterous hand - where the functionality is very similar to the human hand," Schwarz told Sky News.

"If we could help stroke patients there would be a huge market for this kind of device."

The implanted electrodes translate signals from the monkey's brain to dictate the movements of the robotic arm.

The monkey had its arms restrained, forcing it to learn to use the robotic arm in order to feed itself.

"It's pretty amazing because monkeys aren't used to moving tools," said Schwarz.

"We use them all the time. Imagine you're moving your arm to get that piece of food. Conveying that to a monkey is pretty difficult, yet the monkey learns it fairly rapidly."

"As the days go by, you see the monkeys start using it as if it is part of their own body."

Sky also reported of a project at Brown University in New England called Braingate, which gives tetraplegic patients the ability to move a cursor across a computer screen using their brain alone.

"I can't put it into words. I just use my brain. I said: 'cursor go up to the top right' and it did. And now I can control it all over the screen. It's wild," said Matthew Nagel, who was part of the first trials with Braingate before dying of an unrelated infection.

"Our goal with Braingate is to have a physical replacement for a broken biological nervous system," Professor John Donoghue, who leads Braingate research, told Sky.

"So we'd like to have a physical system that senses what's going on in the brain, takes those signals inside your body and routes them off to the muscles, so when you think, you move.


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