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The fast macaque monkeys quickly learned to grab treats with their new mechanical arm. What was surprising was the advanced natural motions they developed.  (Source: Andrew Schwartz/University of Pittsburgh)
An outlandish experiment is breaking exciting ground in the world of brain controlled prosthetics

While the jury is still out on whether monkeys deserve human rights, one thing's for sure -- they're good at controlling robotic arms.  In the past, humans have been able to control a computer mouse with brain signals.  In more recent DARPA grant research, prosthetic arms have been implanted in humans with basic control from electrodes on skin or electrodes implanted in muscle.  However, without directly interfacing with nerves, preferably near the brain, it is impossible to gain the fluid motion that human limbs have according to the current line of thought.

Researchers at Caltech recently made breakthroughs in repositionable neural probes, which will help such brain connections be made.  Now, researchers at the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University have taken the next step and for the first time ever have showcased the use of one of these nerve interfaced limbs with a nonhuman primate.

The researchers selected monkeys for the study due to their anatomical similarities to humans and their strong capacity to learn.  In the experiment, two Macaque monkeys were initially allowed to play with a joystick to get the feel for the basic capabilities of their new mechanical arm.  The arm featured shoulder joints, an elbow joint, and a two-fingered grasping claw.

Afterwards, a grid of electrodes the size of freckles were implanted just beneath the monkeys' skulls on their motor cortex.  The grid contained 100 electrodes and was placed on a section of the brain known to signal hand and arm movements.  Each electrode connected to a separate neuron, and the signals ran back out of the brain via wire to computers for processing.

The device collected the firings on the neurons and used it to generate a movement response which was sent to the arm.  The monkeys quickly learned from this biofeedback how to perform basic arm movements.  Within several days the monkey needed no assistance.  Sitting motionless they moved the arm like a normal limb, using it to delicate pick up small objects like grapes, marshmallows, and other chewy nuggets which were held in front of them.  Over two-thirds of the time the goodies found their way to the hungry little monkeys' mouths.

The monkeys learned to approach the morsel with an open "hand", to close the hand, and to slowly release as they bit into it.  They shocked researchers showcasing advanced movements, such as using one finger to pick up a sticky item by poking it, keeping the hand open.  They also would bring their arm by their mouth to lick clean, and would use it push morsels of food dangling from their mouth back in.  Researchers wrote that these were "displays of embodiment that would never be seen in a virtual environment".

Dr. Andrew Schwartz, a professor of neurobiology at the University of Pittsburgh and senior author of the paper on the research states, "In the real world, things don’t work as expected.  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."

The new paper, released in the online journal Nature, is coauthored by Meel Velliste, Sagi Perel, M. Chance Spalding and Andrew Whitford.  The paper demonstrates that human brain-controlled prosthetics while not affordable in cost or difficulty, are technically feasible, or within reach.

Says expert Dr. William Heetderks, director of the extramural science program at the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering, "This study really pulls together all the pieces from earlier work and provides a clear demonstration of what’s possible."

Another expert, Dr. John P. Donoghue, director of the Institute of Brain Science at Brown University commented that the paper is "important because it’s the most comprehensive study showing how an animal interacts with complex objects, using only brain activity."

One major problem that remains is that brain electrode grids currently fail within months for unknown reasons.  Furthermore, the system is cumbersome and needs calibration.  Also, so far a safe wireless interface has not been demonstrated, necessitating wires through the scalp.  However the researchers are striving ahead, looking for solution to each of these problems.

Dr. John F. Kalaska, a neuroscientist at the University of Montreal in an accompanying article in the Nature journal says that once the bugs have been resolved, researchers may be able to find other areas of the brain to give the limbs even more delicate response.  Kalaska says such possible future systems, "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."



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Are these animal tests necessary AND fruitful?
By MrJustin5 on 5/29/2008 7:39:12 PM , Rating: 2
Ok, for once, a real question and discussion, not immature "cyber monkey overlords". Come on, guys. This is my first comment on here, so here we go.

It really pains me to see animals rigged up with surgically implanted things in their heads and dismembered bodies, chopped up brains in Cats, mice, monkeys, etc. And for what? Cutting out a cats brain until there is little more than 10% left - just to prove that memory storage is holographic in nature in the brain. And the cat can still find its dish.

I saw someone comment on "poor monkey" : "Would YOU rather be the one experimented on?" What kind of a comment is that? Does that mean that these sorts of experiments are 100% necessary? 100% required? 100% beneficial? I doubt much of anything (for REAL public use anyway) is actually learned in such experiments. Yes, a little SHRED of a mystery about the brain is put to rest.. but.. come on... these poor lab animals are either designed to SAVE companies MILLIONS or MAKE MILLIONS (or billions).

Also, if it were a HUMAN being tested on... at least the person could say: "Hey! I am in PAIN! More drugs, please?! PLEASE?!" And if this monkey is in pain? What does he do? Shake? What if he has a constant headache? Like a Migrane all the time from such experiments? FACTS ARE: Animals like this who have been turned into a cybernetic frankenstien RARELY live long at all. Gee... I wonder why.

Now, I am sure.. for bringing up a valid and assertive comment and discussion... there is going to be a lot of flak at me for even DISCUSSING such things! HOW DARE I?!!! Why dont I go back to HUGGING TREE's and "saving the planet" - yeah, sure... whatever guys. I am sorry that I have a heart and have feelings (ALTHOUGH - I am not suggesting YOU dont - but why dont you listen to those gut feelings once in awhile?).

Just look up animal experiments and see these creatures with the TOPS OF THEIR SKULLS MISSING - replaced with a clear plastic dome... constantly wired up into electronics and being strapped into a cage or chair, unable to pull it out of your head. ASK YOURSELF: Does this look right? DOES IT FEEL RIGHT? Will any of my relatives coming back DISMEMBERED FROM IRAQ actually benefit from this research in their lifetime? If they COULD - can we even afford such "wonderful advancements?" Wouldn't it be great if WARS and such could be avoided altogether to make RESEARCH INTO DISMEMBERMENT such a low demand that it is absolutely unprofitable?

Now I shall end my long comment on a quote:

"Cowardice asks, is it safe? Expediency asks, is it politic? Vanity asks, is it popular? But conscience asks, is it right? There comes a time when one must take the position that is neither safe nor politic nor popular, but he must do it because conscience tells him, it is right." - Dr. Martin Luther King




By Misty Dingos on 5/29/2008 7:55:14 PM , Rating: 2
If it helps cure a disease, if it someday helps the invalid walk, if it someday helps the mute speak or the deaf hear. I would kill a jungle of monkeys, a truck load of kittens and all the chimps necessary to make it happen. There is no moral equivalence between animals and man.

One more thing.

Black is negative.
Red is positive.
Turn the juice on.


By MrJustin5 on 5/29/2008 11:14:34 PM , Rating: 1
You've got to be joking right? If not, in the words of Alex Jones: "oh dear god, Heaven help us..." Nice mentality and sense of humor you've got there, Son Of Sam. America's finest!


RE: Are these animal tests necessary AND fruitful?
By Ringold on 5/30/2008 6:02:07 AM , Rating: 2
MrJustin5, unfortunately, you're going to have to accept that some people (myself included) think of lesser lifeforms as expendable, things that exist, just like iron ore, to be used to our benefit if so be it. Whats a lesser life form? Those that can't beat me at chess, Counterstrike, nor discuss the merits of the unique pseudo-libertarian vision put forth in Heinlein's Starship Troopers. IMHO, humans > all other life, and therefore all other life can be tinkered with to serve us. Just like abortion, it's a matter of opinion, and it does no good to think less of people with the opposite opinion of your own, and does little good to argue the point.

That said, I'm almost certain that some animal testing will always have to be done. We can't simulate things we don't understand, no matter how much money we throw at something. I also picked up on the typical anti-corporate attack, but I'll point out it was universities doing this. DailyKos is the anti-capitalist site. :)


By pxavierperez on 5/30/2008 8:09:06 AM , Rating: 2
Well, we can take this even further MrJustin5.

The meat that you had from last supper, that was from a herd of living mammals bred for the sole purpose to be chopped in pieces and barbecued.

Ah but you are a vegetarian? Well, how do you think that carrot felt when it was plucked off the ground to be stewed? Not too happy I assumed.


By Donkeyshins on 5/30/2008 3:57:55 PM , Rating: 2
What if it willingly gave itself up to be eaten? A specially-bread superrace of altruistic vegetables?

That is, until they turn evil...


RE: Are these animal tests necessary AND fruitful?
By DASQ on 6/3/2008 4:14:19 PM , Rating: 2
And what of the Earth? Those terrible humans, pulling at it's limbs and hairs for sustenance. Think of Mother Nature!

MrJustin5, you being alive IS killing something, one way or the other. Time to sober up and realize you're just like us dirty pigs feeding from the same trough.


By MrJustin5 on 6/19/2008 6:07:35 AM , Rating: 2

Wow! I cannot believe about the incredible amount of assumption of bull stuffed in my mouth about I shouldn't EAT MEAT beucase I'm against animal testing and on and on.

Then they stuff more words in my mouth about things I didnt say - by immature little children who talk about Counter Strike and Starship troopers.

Yes, exploit the world, nature, etc... do as much harm as you can, then try to rectify it through animal experimentation because ALL ANIMALS, ALL PLANTS... the ENTIRE EARTH is here just to be butchered and chopped up just to "SERVE US" as one commentor put it.

I guess I am not welcome here. I suppose Depleted Uranium in Iraq and Afghan. is a good thing, too, huh?

I NOT saying we should never harm the hair on an animals head. If you READ MY message and not tack on little nerdy insults to someone ELSES comments you will see that I am questioning the benefits of such animal research .

Its perfectly acceptable to KILL something ELSE so you CAN SURVIVE.

Its another thing entirely to cause great harm and pain to an animal for something that will probably not benefit most people.

I mean, this is just out of control. I said only a FEW THINGS about animal testing and nothing else of the sort on all this other nonsense people are shoving into my mouth.

You guys need to go to College, stop drinking beer, smoking Marijuana, playing games, get a real life and do some serious reading!


By MozeeToby on 5/30/2008 1:31:53 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
why dont you listen to those gut feelings once in awhile?
Ok, I will.

My gut feelings tell me that my grandmother, mother, and aunt would almost assuredly have died of cancer years ago if not for animal experimentation.

There are problems that occur with animal research; I don't deny that many, many horrible things have been done and that a few horrible things continue to be done in the name of science. However, this research is not one of them.

This research has also been performed on human beings (with a computer pointer being moved instead of an arm) with no adverse effects. The only new information being described in the article is the "natural" movements of the arm, not the electrodes or the brain-computer interface.

Stop, take a deap breath and think about what you are saying to people before you get angry. Many, many lives have been saved thanks to animal research, almost assuredly including close personal friends and relatives of yours.

Someday (if it hasn't happened already), you will need a treatment that was developed on animals to save your life or cure a disease; will you turn down the treatment in protest? For that matter, do you read all your shampoo bottles, household cleansers, and acne medication to ensure that it wasn't tested on animals?


By MrJustin5 on 6/19/2008 5:59:07 AM , Rating: 2

Ok, MozeeToby!

Lets say it DOES save some lives and that your Mother, Grandmother and aunt were all saved my miracle cancer curing drugs. Question: Did ALL of those relatives get cancer? Was the cancer eliminated? Did you know you are 6 times more likely to DIE from cancer CAUSED by Chemotherapy than the cancer it "cured"? Yes, look it up.

Lets take a look at the 1930's. 1 out of 33 people died of CANCER.

Lets look at today. 1 out of 3 people DIE of cancer. Soon it will be 1 out of 2.

It is due to all the chemicals in electronic equipment, the bottled water you drink, the air you breath, the car you own, the petro-chemical industry. To microwavable food you just ate sitting in carcinogenic microwavable plastic tray you ate out of. Its from the THOUSANDS of nuclear tests done since the 1940's. Its from the Nuke Power Plants. Its from Electromagnetic radiation, cell phone towers, cell phones themselves (YES the studies are out there! HUNDREDS of studies - your little cell phone causes brain cancer in the exact area you had it pressed against your head).

So why dont we ELIMINATE the causes of cancer FIRST and then try to cure what is left over. By that point, the war on cancer is over because it has been virtually defeated through PREVENTION.

You see, its an endless struggle with literally NO END to FIGHT a disease or condition once it has occurred. It is all about PREVENTION. Its common sense.

Facts are.. if diseases and cancers are PREVENTED from occurring... these mega-huge pharmaceutical drug cartels wont have any drugs to push and wont have much money to make.

I rest my case vs MozeeToby.


By Doken on 5/31/2008 7:59:13 PM , Rating: 2
I agree that some animal testing goes beyond what is necessary, but I don't think this particular case does. If you look at the pictures, it's clear that the monkey still has both arms attached but restrained.

I'm sure that the probes and wires were removed as well.

I look forward to the day when animal testing is no longer necessary for scientific and medical advancement, but that day is a long way off.


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