Monkeys Learn to Control Avatar Arms With Their Minds

Posted on November 8, 2013

Monkeys control virtual avatar arms

Duke researchers have helped monkeys learn how to control virtual avatar arms. The monkeys were trained in a virtual environment where they viewed realistic avatar arms on a screen. They monkeys were encouraged to place their virtual hands on specific targets in a bimanual motor task. The monkeys first learned to control the avatar arms using a pair of joysticks, but were eventually able to learn to use just their brain activity to move both avatar arms without moving their own arms. The researchers say the monkeys' performance improved over time. Popular Science reports that the monkeys were given sips of juice as motivation.

The researchers say the study helps advance efforts to brain-controlled prosthetic devices for severely paralyzed patients. Researchers recorded nearly 500 neurons from areas in both cebral hemispheres of the monkeys' brain, which is the largest recorded to date. The researchers also discovered that cortical regions showed specific patterns of neuronal electrical activity during bimanual movements that differed from the neuronal activity produced for moving each arm separately.

Miguel Nicolelis, M.D., Ph.D., professor of neurobiology at Duke University School of Medicine, said in a statement, "Bimanual movements in our daily activities -- from typing on a keyboard to opening a can -- are critically importante. Future brain-machine interfaces aimed at restoring mobility in humans will have to incorporate multiple limbs to greatly benefit severely paralyzed patients."

Here is a video of what the monkeys saw as they were controlling the avatar arms. Take a look:

The research was published here in the journal, Science Translational Medicine.

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