A team of researchers have developed a Brain Machine Interface (BMI), in other words, a mind-controlled device, that allows primates to use their minds to control artificial limbs. Such advance could help develop a similar device for quadriplegics.

The monkeys, called Kiwi and Mango, learned to navigate the device using electrodes implanted into their brains. Scientists were able to decode neural signals from the animals and turn them into commands for the wheelchair, as reported by the Guardian.

(A) The mobile robotic wheelchair, which seats a monkey, was moved from one of the three starting locations (dashed circles) to a grape dispenser. The wireless recording system records the spiking activities from the monkey’s head stage and sends the activities to the wireless receiver to decode the wheelchair movement. (B) Schematic of the brain regions from which we recorded units tuned to either velocity or steering. Credits: Nature/Scientific Reports

It is still unknown whether the signals would be able to operate a BMI that moves a wheelchair continuously in space, but the research gathered until now could be an advance for a more complex device.

At first, while Kiwi and Mango remained seated in the robotic wheelchair, passive navigation was employed to train a decoder to read the signals from the animals’ brains. Then, when the device and the monkeys were on the same page, they could control the robotic chair translational and rotational velocities, according to the study published in Nature.

Over the time, monkeys improved control over the device and learned to do as they wished. They acquired the ability to navigate the mind-controlled wheelchair toward the location of a grape reward.

“The conclusion of this study is that you would be able to put this patient in a motorised electronic wheelchair and this patient would be able to learn to navigate this wheelchair freely, continuously, using an intracortical implant,” said the lead professor in the study, Miguel Nicolelis of Duke University in North Carolina.

A new direction in the development of robotic devices

The pioneering team has been studying the mind-controlled field for a while now. In their previous study back in 2014, they debuted an exoskeleton controlled by mind signals from an external electroencephalography (EEG), which allowed a young paraplegic to kick a ball at the opening ceremony of the World Cup.

At the stadium, the young paraplegic Brazilian was able to stand up from a wheelchair, walk over to midfield and take a kick in the opening ceremony with the help of the mind-controlled exoskeleton.

The new study has opened up a new direction in the developing of robotic control devices, said Nicolelis. Exoskeletons were for paraplegic patients, and that is an advance, but now they have the possibility of developing something for ALS patients or quadriplegics where their previous creation would not work, he added.

Source: The Guardian