University of Pittsburgh researchers have demonstrated that a monkey can feed itself with a robotic arm simply by using signals from its brain. The scientists placed food at various locations and the animal “thought” the movements that triggered the arm.
The robotic arm moved like a natural one, with a fully mobile shoulder and elbow and a simple gripper that allowed the monkey to grasp and hold food, while its own arms were restrained.
The arm was wired into the animal’s brain and intercepted signals through electrodes attached to tiny probes that tap into the animal’s neuronal pathways in the motor cortex.
The neurons’ activity was fed through an algorithm that interpreted the activity in the monkey’s brain as it tried to move its own arm, and transmitted the signals to the robotic arm.
The experiment might someday lead to devices that could help people who are paralyzed or who have lost limbs.