Researchers have been able to create a robotic wheelchair that can be moved by translating thoughts of monkeys that are decoded into commands, which are transmitted to the machine through electrodes implanted into the brains of the creatures.
Results would appear to show that a pair of monkeys was able to drive the robotic wheelchairs in order to take grapes from a dispenser located two meters away from them. It seems impressive that the “brain machine interface” developed by the team is able to transform thoughts into simple orders than permit the movement of the wheelchair.
The objective of the experiments is to create new mobilization alternatives for people with paralysis or motor neurone diseases such as Lou Gehrig’s disease (ALS), says the team led by Professor Miguel Nicolelis of Duke University in North Carolina.
More than 12,000 people in the United States have a definite diagnosis of ALS, says the National Institute of Neurological Disorders Strokes. ALS is one of the most common neuromuscular diseases worldwide, but ,unfortunately, most of the cases occur suddenly with no clearly associated risks factors.
“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 intra-cortical implant,” Said Professor Nicolelis to the Guardian journal in an interview.
The first monkeys to move a wheelchair through a wireless brain implant
Findings concluded that both monkeys known as “M” and “K” were able to move the wheelchair to obtain the grapes at speeds of up to 11.02 inches per second, just by using implanted electrodes that were connected to their brains. The experiment was repeated 30 times from different positions, close to the grape dispenser.
Then, researchers registered the brain activity of the monkeys to analyze the relation between signals from the neurons and the movement of the wheelchair, in order to teach their computational algorithms to “map brain activity to a given trajectory”, explained professor Nicolelis to The Guardian.
He clarified that the team is not able to read the monkey’s minds but they are able to obtain information that can be successfully transformed into commands that can control the robotic wheelchair.
“This was a surprise. It demonstrates the brain’s enormous flexibility to assimilate a device, in this case a wheelchair, and that device’s spatial relationships to the surrounding world.” He added, according to the Daily Mail.
Electronic parts fusioned with the human body could definitely help disabled people in a close future
In 2014, the same team that is currently developing the robotic wheelchair presented an exoskeleton controlled by signals from an external electroencephalography, which allowed a paraplegic man to kick a ball in the FIFA World Cup opening ceremony. However, the team wants to work at several solutions for different people.
The wheelchair is being specifically designed for ALS or quadriplegic patients while the exoskeleton works for paraplegic people. In the future, the team wants to achieve efficient communication channels among electronic devices and the body, to help people recover some lost bodily function.
Source: The Guardian