OWL MONKEY named Belle climbs on a robot arm she was able to control from a distant room purely by imagining her own arm moving through three-dimensional space.
Belle, our tiny owl monkey, was seated in her special chair inside a soundproof chamber at our Duke University laboratory. Her right hand grasped a joystick as she watched a horizontal series of lights on a display panel. She knew that if a light suddenly shone and she moved the joystick left or right to correspond to its position, a dispenser would send a drop of fruit juice into her mouth. She loved to play this game. And she was good at it.
Belle wore a cap glued to her head. Under it were four plastic connectors. The connectors fed arrays of microwires--each wire finer than the finest sewing thread--into different regions of Belle's motor cortex, the brain tissue that plans movements and sends instructions for enacting the plans to nerve cells in the spinal cord. Each of the 100 microwires lay beside a single motor neuron. When a neuron produced an electrical discharge--an "action potential"--the adjacent microwire would capture the current and send it up through a small wiring bundle that ran from Belle's cap to a box of electronics on a table next to the booth. The box, in turn, was linked to two computers, one next door and the other half a country away.
This article was originally published with the title Controlling Robots with the Mind.