A virtual arm controlled by thought and endowed with a sense of touch
Scientists Americans have taught monkeys to move the arms of a video game character using only the power of their thinking. A real breakthrough that could help in the future tetraplegic patients.
Researchers at the Duke Center for Neuroengineering in Durham, North Carolina, have come up with a complex device that allows monkeys to control the arms of a virtual figure, represented on a computer screen without moving a part of their own body.
The concept, based on the use of brain electrical activity of primates, was tested on two rhesus macaques. The protocol consisted of teaching primates to use the character's hands to explore the surface of three virtual objects. These, similar appearances have been designed to present three different textures, expressed by means of tiny electrical signals sent to the brain of primates. The task asked the macaque was to search for a virtual object with a particular texture, which is rewarded with a correct identification.
The results, published in the journal Nature, as to the success of the experiment are rather encouraging. Indeed, if one of the macaques needed nine attempts to identify the correct object, the other made only four attempts before succeeding. "The remarkable success of these primates suggests that humans could accomplish the same task much more easily in the near future," Miguel Nicolelis, co-director of the Duke Center for Neuroengineering, told the Telegraph.
A robotic exoskeleton allowing quadriplegics to feel again
Researchers are now working on possible applications of their device for human victims of paralysis of their limbs. One day, in the near future, quadriplegic patients will benefit from this technology not only to move limbs and walk again, but also to feel the texture of objects placed in their hands, or to experience the nuances of the terrain. on which they will walk with the help of a portable robotic exoskeleton, "says Miguel Nicolelis.
The Duke Center for Neuroengineering plans to perform a public demonstration of a robotic exoskeleton used by a quadriplegic at the opening match of the 2014 FIFA World Cup.