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Brain-computer interface technology has made enormous strides in recent years. Only recently, Australian researchers have worked to transform stents into electrodes while scientists at Brown University have developed brain implant technology that can enable paralyzed patients to control computer interfaces with thoughts alone.
Now, researchers at Duke University have succeeded in having monkeys control robotic wheelchairs with their mind using a brain implant. The researchers were able to detect signals from premotor and sensorimotor cortical neurons in the brain and harness those signals to enable the monkeys to steer wheelchairs.
The breakthrough could ultimately lead to improved controls for wheelchairs and prosthetics.
Under the leadership of Miguel Nicolelis at the Duke University Center for Neuroengineering, the researchers implanted a brain implant into rhesus monkeys, which have brains similar to those of humans.
In the experiment, the monkeys used their brain-controlled interface to navigate towards a grape, which was provided as a reward.
Some of the monkeys have had the implants for more than seven years.
The researchers ultimately plan on testing the technology on paralyzed people in wheelchairs.
While researchers have previously succeeded in the past with using noninvasive EEG but the precision of that approach was substantially less than implantable-electrode version.
Saturday Night Live poked fun at the research breakthrough in a mock news segment. "Scientists have designed a new device that allows monkeys to control a wheelchair with their minds. You can read all about it in this week's issue of 'But Why Tho? magazine.'"