Monkey Think, Robot Do

A demonstration of brain-connected interfaces shows the power of this technology to control robots and other machines using neural signals alone

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Miguel Nicolelis, a pioneer in brain-machine interfaces, collaborated with a Japanese colleague in 2008 to show how this technology could be used not only to manipulate computer cursors, but also to issue commands to a human-like robot.

In the experiment, shown in this video, a rhesus monkey in Nicolelis's laboratory at Duke University in Durham, N.C., had electrodes implanted in its brain that detected signals in real time from its motor cortex as the animal walked on a treadmill. Those signals were relayed over the Internet and input into the control circuitry of a bipedal humanoid robot in Japan that then walked at an identical pace. A video image of the robot was also sent back to the monkey, completing a 220-millisecond round trip to Japan and back. The experiment, conducted in conjunction with the laboratory of Gordon Cheng at ATR in Japan, provides evidence of how brain-machine interfaces might one day help the disabled walk.

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