Monkeys + Robots = AWESOME, Pt. II

May 29th, 2008at 10:29pm Posted by Eli

Well, okay, it’s just a robot hand – but it’s still pretty cool:

In previous studies, researchers showed that humans who had been paralyzed for years could learn to control a cursor on a computer screen with their brain waves and that nonhuman primates could use their thoughts to move a mechanical arm, a robotic hand or a robot on a treadmill.

The new experiment goes a step further. In it, the monkeys’ brains seem to have adopted the mechanical appendage as their own, refining its movement as it interacted with real objects in real time. The monkeys had their own arms gently restrained while they learned to use the added one.

(…)

In the experiment, two macaques first used a joystick to gain a feel for the arm, which had shoulder joints, an elbow and a grasping claw with two mechanical fingers.

(…)

The scientists used the computer to help the monkeys move the arm at first, essentially teaching them with biofeedback.

After several days, the monkeys needed no help. They sat stationary in a chair, repeatedly manipulating the arm with their brain to reach out and grab grapes, marshmallows and other nuggets dangled in front of them. The snacks reached the mouths about two-thirds of the time — an impressive rate, compared with earlier work.

The monkeys learned to hold the grip open on approaching the food, close it just enough to hold the food and gradually loosen the grip when feeding.

On several occasions, a monkey kept its claw open on the way back, with the food stuck to one finger. At other times, a monkey moved the arm to lick the fingers clean or to push a bit of food into its mouth while ignoring a newly presented morsel.

The animals were apparently freelancing, discovering new uses for the arm, showing “displays of embodiment that would never be seen in a virtual environment,” the researchers wrote.

“In the real world, things don’t work as expected,” said the senior author of the paper, Dr. Andrew Schwartz, a professor of neurobiology at the University of Pittsburgh. “The marshmallow sticks to your hand or the food slips, and you can’t program a computer to anticipate all of that.

“But the monkeys’ brains adjusted. They were licking the marshmallow off the prosthetic gripper, pushing food into their mouth, as if it were their own hand.”

(…)

…Dr. Schwartz’s team, Dr. Donoghue’s group and others are working on all of the problems, and the two macaques’ rapid learning curve in taking ownership of a foreign limb gives scientists confidence that the main obstacles are technical and, thus, negotiable.

In an editorial accompanying the Nature study, Dr. John F. Kalaska, a neuroscientist at the University of Montreal, argued that after such bugs had been worked out, scientists might even discover areas of the cortex that allow more intimate, subtle control of prosthetic devices.

Such systems, Dr. Kalaska wrote, “would allow patients with severe motor deficits to interact and communicate with the world not only by the moment-to-moment control of the motion of robotic devices, but also in a more natural and intuitive manner that reflects their overall goals, needs and preferences.”

The potential really is amazing.  And, sadly, we have an ever-increasing group of combat veterans who could really benefit from it.

Entry Filed under: Coolness,Science,Technology


Contact Eli





Feeds

Linkedelia!

Most Recent Posts

Archives

Categories

Calendar

May 2008
M T W T F S S
« Apr   Jun »
 1234
567891011
12131415161718
19202122232425
262728293031  


Thinking Blogger

Pittsburgh Webloggers

Site Meter


View My Stats *