Science

Monkeys Control Wheelchair with Thoughts

A romantic image that is not rolling as the two rhesus monkeys in a cage strapped to something on the head. In a bleak and garishly lit room, the prototype wheelchair moves, and only nice is a bowl of grapes in the area.The fruits are the biggest attraction for the monkeys. To them, the animals want to necessarily ran. Only: You are completely immobile in her wheelchair. The neuroscientists from Duke University in the American Durham produced this bleak looking installation, but help them on the jumps. In several passages, they show the monkey how to move the wheelchair in the direction of the grapes. And then it doesn’t take long, until the animals can trigger this movement itself.

Fast learning process

But how does it work? The secret is the brain-machine interface (BMI), so an interface between the wheelchair control system and the brain of the subject. In certain areas of the brain that are responsible for movement, researchers have attached electrodes that register activity patterns and pass to the driving unit. The monkeys apparently quickly understand this connection and always more precisely control the wheelchair in the course of the experiment.

Compared with earlier, similar experiments, this development has two major differences: the electrodes are not wired, but work via radio transmission. To the other, and that is the crucial point, control the monkeys through the power of thought not only an arm or a leg, but her whole body or the wheelchair associated. Here, a command is triggered so for which there was so far even no authority, no “representation” in the brain as doctors call it.

Great opportunity for human patients

This is the great progress according to project leader of Miguel Nicolelis. The Brazilian neuro-scientist for years, deals with the direct connection between brain and grab rails and pointed especially at the World Cup 2014 on his research: as he had in the opening match the symbolic kick-off run a paralyzed man uses a so-called Exo skeleton.

What is a profitable game for the monkeys in the best case, could be a giant leap for human patients according to the research group. The wheelchair will remain the number one for very many paralysed, they write in an article for “Scientific Reports”. And therefore the research open the possibility to move independently in the room even completely paralyzed.

Disadvantage, however, is that the electrodes must be implanted surgically in the skull. In addition, further tests are necessary after the promising experiments. For example, which must ensure that the monkey not yet through minimal movement, about the poor, “have helped to”.