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Monkeys Control Virtual Arms With Their Thoughts During Study

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File photo of a person with a robotic hand. (Photo by Brandi Simons/Getty Images)

File photo of a person with a robotic hand. (Photo by Brandi Simons/Getty Images)

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DURHAM, N.C. (CBS Charlotte) - During a neuroscience study conducted at Duke University Medical Center, two monkeys were able to control robotic arms using only their thoughts.

The team of researchers, led by neuroscientist Miguel Nicolelis, implanted neural transmitting devices called multielectrode arrays into multiple areas of the brains of two monkeys.

Using these devices, the monkeys were said to be able to manipulate virtual arms and hands using only their thoughts.

“When we looked at the properties of individual neurons, or of whole populations of cortical cells, we noticed that simply summing up the neuronal activity correlated to movements of the right and left arms did not allow us to predict what the same individual neurons or neuronal populations would do when both arms were engaged together in a bimanual task,” Nicolelis said in a press release.

He added, “This finding points to an emergent brain property – a non-linear summation – for when both hands are engaged at once.”

The team involved in the study were encouraged by the results, which they say could one day lead to inventions that could greatly benefit those who have suffered from spinal cord injuries.

“Bimanual movements in our daily activities – from typing on a keyboard to opening a can – are critically important,” Nicolelis noted. “Future brain-machine interfaces aimed at restoring mobility in humans will have to incorporate multiple limbs to greatly benefit severely paralyzed patients.”

The team intends to use their findings toward helping the mission of an international collaborative initiative called the Walk Again Project, which hopes to one day successfully engineer a “brain-controlled neuroprosthetic device.”

The study was published in Science Translational Medicine earlier this week.

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