Back in December, we published a post highlighting Sheila Nirenberg’s TED Talk about breakthrough retinal prosthetic technology, which breaks down the process by which our brains interpret visual stimuli into mathematical code.
Naturally, this concept is also being used to research other functions of the body. In a presentation at TEDMED 2012, Miguel Nicolelis, a professor at Duke University and founder of Duke’s Center for Neuroengineering, explains the principals and applications of mind-controlled robotic technology.
Nicolelis’ research on this subject had a breakthrough ten years ago when researchers were able to train a monkey to play a simple video game by controlling a robotic arm with her mind. Just last year, this research took another step forward, as scientists did away with the robotic arm and trained monkeys to control on-screen avatars with their minds, exploring a virtual environment. The monkeys were even able to gain a tactile understanding of what their avatars were touching in the virtual world.
Taking this concept even further, the brain activity of a monkey walking in the US was transmitted to a computer in Japan, which controlled a robot that mimicked the monkey’s actions.
The ultimate goal of this amazing technology is to allow those who have lost their ability to control their motor functions another chance at full mobility. Nicolelis’ dream is to outfit paraplegics and quadriplegics with robotic exoskeletons that allow them to move their legs and arms using only their minds.
This technology will lead to huge advances in prosthetics and may even make the wheelchair obsolete a few decades down the line. This melding of machines and the human brain is just beginning to take off—it will be very interesting, and possibly frightening, to see where this technology goes.