Monkey Mind-Controls Robot Arm

The video player is loading. If it does not appear shortly, you may need to enable JavaScript in your Web browser and/or get the latest Flash Player plug-in to view it.
Email to a Friend

July 27, 2009—Monkeys with computer chips implanted in their brains are helping researchers develop technology that could help paralyzed humans become more self-sufficient.

© 2009 National Geographic (AP)

Unedited Transcript

This monkey is moving this robotic arm purely by thinking about it.

He has a hi-tech brain chip, smaller than a quarter, fitted in his head that enables him to animate the arm using the power of thought.

The mechanical arm simulates a real arm, with an elbow, wrist and simple hand.

With this device, the monkey can reach out, grab and move a handle by just thinking about it.

As a reward, the monkey gets a sip of water when it completes this task.

SOUNDBITE (English) Dr. Andrew Schwartz, University of Pittsburgh Medical Center: +++ Soundbite partly overlaid with shots of monkey +++ "The monkey learns it fairly rapidly and is very comfortable with it. As you can see as the days go by they actually start using this as if the device had been embodied. So it almost seems like they think of it as part of their own body. And he has to be very precise because that marshmallow would fall off if he knocks it the wrong way."

Schwartz is one of the scientists at The University of Pittsburgh who is conducting a research project that could bring hope to paralyzed patients.

The goal is to help those who have lost muscle movement because of spinal cord injuries.

The monkey has a small censor containing electrodes implanted into the part of its brain that controls arm and hand movements that pick up pulses within individual neurons.

The signals are then fed to a computer that analyzes their pattern and firing frequency.

It then determines what the monkey is trying to do and translates it into movement of the mechanical arm.

According to the AP, the system is designed to correct movements if the arm overshoots the monkey's intended target.

The researchers claim that the monkey does not feel the electrodes in the brain.

NEWS FEEDS    After installing a news reader, click on this icon to download National Geographic News's XML/RSS feed. After installing a news reader, click on this icon to download National Geographic News's XML/RSS feed.

Get our news delivered directly to your desktop—free.
How to Use XML or RSS



50 Drives of a Lifetime

Listen to your favorite National Geographic news daily, anytime, anywhere from your mobile phone. No wires or syncing. Download Stitcher free today.