Monkeys + Robots = AWESOME

3 comments January 17th, 2008at 07:21am Posted by Eli

How cool is this?

In preparing for the experiment, Idoya was trained to walk upright on a treadmill. She held onto a bar with her hands and got treats — raisins and Cheerios — as she walked at different speeds, forward and backward, for 15 minutes a day, 3 days a week, for 2 months.

Meanwhile, electrodes implanted in the so-called leg area of Idoya’s brain recorded the activity of 250 to 300 neurons that fired while she walked. Some neurons became active when her ankle, knee and hip joints moved. Others responded when her feet touched the ground. And some fired in anticipation of her movements.

To obtain a detailed model of Idoya’s leg movements, the researchers also painted her ankle, knee and hip joints with fluorescent stage makeup and, using a special high speed camera, captured her movements on video.

The video and brain cell activity were then combined and translated into a format that a computer could read. This format is able to predict with 90 percent accuracy all permutations of Idoya’s leg movements three to four seconds before the movement takes place.

On Thursday, an alert and ready-to-work Idoya stepped onto her treadmill and began walking at a steady pace with electrodes implanted in her brain. Her walking pattern and brain signals were collected, fed into the computer and transmitted over a high-speed Internet link to a robot in Kyoto, Japan.

The robot, called CB for Computational Brain, has the same range of motion as a human. It can dance, squat, point and “feel” the ground with sensors embedded in its feet, and it will not fall over when shoved.

Designed by the Sarcos Research Corporation in Salt Lake City, the robot was chosen for the experiment because of its extraordinary ability to mimic human locomotion.

As Idoya’s brain signals streamed into CB’s actuators, her job was to make the robot walk steadily via her own brain activity. She could see the back of CB’s legs on an enormous movie screen in front of her treadmill and received treats if she could make the robot’s joints move in synchrony with her own leg movements.

As Idoya walked, CB walked at exactly the same pace. Recordings from Idoya’s brain revealed that her neurons fired each time she took a step and each time the robot took a step.

(…)

An hour into the experiment, the researchers pulled a trick on Idoya. They stopped her treadmill. Everyone held their breath. What would Idoya do?

“Her eyes remained focused like crazy on CB’s legs,” Dr. Nicolelis said.

She got treats galore. The robot kept walking. And the researchers were jubilant.

When Idoya’s brain signals made the robot walk, some neurons in her brain controlled her own legs, whereas others controlled the robot’s legs. The latter set of neurons had basically become attuned to the robot’s legs after about an hour of practice and visual feedback.

Idoya cannot talk but her brain signals revealed that after the treadmill stopped, she was able to make CB walk for three full minutes by attending to its legs and not her own.

Vision is a powerful, dominant signal in the brain, Dr. Nicolelis said. Idoya’s motor cortex, where the electrodes were implanted, had started to absorb the representation of the robot’s legs — as if they belonged to Idoya herself.

Now if they can just figure out a way to work ninjas, pirates, and Vikings into the experiment, it will be The Most Awesome Thing Ever.

Entry Filed under: Coolness,Science,Technology

3 Comments

  • 1. SPIIDERWEB  |  January 17th, 2008 at 10:26 am

    Hey, I would do all that for raisins and Cheerios. Especially Cheerios which I like to eat by the box…dry.

  • 2. Eli  |  January 17th, 2008 at 10:42 am

    Dude, I would probably do it for free.

  • 3. inner ninja  |  January 19th, 2008 at 5:47 pm

    very good idea. i’ve tried to work pirates and ninjas into my own laboratory (which contributes nothing to the world except totally sweet tshirts).

    consider a monkey crossed with a robot, having a ninja head – this is the goal of the US science program since we landed on the moon. what a glorious day it shall be.


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