For the first time, monkeys have successfully fed themselves with a robotic arm jacked directly into their brains. Neuro-control of robots isn't new, but apparently performing tasks as complicated as eating is a huge challenge. Conducted at the University of Pittsburgh, the demo was captured on video that's now on YouTube. Of course, the research itself may not sit well with people who are against all animal testing. From New Scientist:
Most people who become paralysed or lose limbs retain the mental dexterity to perform physical actions. And by tapping into a region of the brain responsible for movement – the motor cortex – researchers can decode a person's intentions and translate them into action with a prosthetic.
This had been done mostly with monkeys and in virtual worlds or with simple movements, such as reaching out a hand. But two years ago, an American team hacked into the brain of a patient with no control over his arms to direct a computer cursor and a simple robotic arm.
Schwarz's team extracted even more complicated information from the brains of two rhesus macaques by reading the electrical pulses of about 100 brain cells. Normally, millions of neurons fire when we lift an arm or grab a snack, but the signals from a handful of cells are enough to capture the basics, (neurological engineer Andrew) Schwarz says.