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A group of researchers have figured out a way to allow monkeys to control a wheelchair with their minds. The achievement, which uses a brain implant, could soon even severely paralyzed people to control their wheelchairs, allowing them much more mobility than before.

The researchers think that in the future this method could be employed not only to control wheelchairs, but also other artificial limbs. The research was published today in Scientific Reports.

Previously, other research groups have tried to achieve this task using noninvasive devices, but an implantable brain-machine interface (BMI) provides more nuanced control.

"We are hoping to start trying this in humans soon."


The research group, led by Miguel Nicolelis of the Duke University Center for Neuroengineering, implanted the device into the brains of rhesus monkeys, whose brains are most similar to humans. The device works by recording signals from neurons in two regions of the monkeys’ brains involved in movement and sensation.

As motivation to move, the researchers placed a bowl of grapes in the center of a room. As the monkeys thought about moving toward the bowl of grapes, the BMI translated those brain signals into operations performed by the wheelchair, moving it towards the bowl of grapes.

“It took a few tries for the monkeys to get used to it, and some are better than others,” says Nicolelis, but most of them eventually got the hang of it, and if it were used in humans, it would be much easier, he says. “Over time, the device becomes an extension of the animal’s body.”

How the experiment worked

The monkey sat in a robotic wheelchair which moved from one of three starting locations to a bowl of grapes. The BMI records the monkey's brain activity and then sends it to a wireless receiver which allows the wheelchair to move in the direction the monkey had intended.

Interestingly, as the monkeys continued to use the device, it began to pick up on brain activity that showed the monkeys were trying to figure out how far away the bowl of grapes were. “This was not a signal that was present at the beginning of the training, but something that emerged as an effect of the monkeys becoming proficient in this task,” Nicolelis said in a press release. “This was a surprise. It demonstrates the brain’s enormous flexibility to assimilate a device, in this case a wheelchair, and that device’s spatial relationships to the surrounding world.”

While this study only focused on employing the device for use in a wheelchair, the researchers note that the main concept could be applied for use in other types of assistance, like artificial limbs. Next, the researchers hope to test the device in paralyzed humans using wheelchairs and then go from there.

"Over time, the device becomes an extension of the animal’s body."

Similar, noninvasive devices that exist now, which work by using wearable electroencephalograms (EEGs), are more limited and don’t allow for the fine control that these new implantable devices do. And while the devices would need to be placed in the brain surgically, Nicolelis notes that the surgery is only minimally invasive and that because of the major advantages and increase in quality of life that the devices could bring, he believes many people would be open to it. Some of these implants have been left in the monkey’s brains for seven years, and Nicolelis believes they could stay in for much longer.

“I think we are ready to go. We are hoping to start trying this in humans soon,” says Nicolelis.

In the meantime, Nicolelis and his team will continue to try to increase the accuracy and precision of the brain implant by attempting to record more neurons with the machine. This trial recorded 300 neurons, and his team had previously been able to record up to 2,000 at one time; the more neurons recorded, the more precise the movements will be.

Source: http://www.popsci.com/robotic-wheelchair-can-be-now-be-controlled-by-monkeys-brain

/ About us

Founded by Russian entrepreneur Dmitry Itskov in February 2011 with the participation of leading Russian specialists in the field of neural interfaces, robotics, artificial organs and systems.

The main goals of the 2045 Initiative: the creation and realization of a new strategy for the development of humanity which meets global civilization challenges; the creation of optimale conditions promoting the spiritual enlightenment of humanity; and the realization of a new futuristic reality based on 5 principles: high spirituality, high culture, high ethics, high science and high technologies. 

The main science mega-project of the 2045 Initiative aims to create technologies enabling the transfer of a individual’s personality to a more advanced non-biological carrier, and extending life, including to the point of immortality. We devote particular attention to enabling the fullest possible dialogue between the world’s major spiritual traditions, science and society.

A large-scale transformation of humanity, comparable to some of the major spiritual and sci-tech revolutions in history, will require a new strategy. We believe this to be necessary to overcome existing crises, which threaten our planetary habitat and the continued existence of humanity as a species. With the 2045 Initiative, we hope to realize a new strategy for humanity's development, and in so doing, create a more productive, fulfilling, and satisfying future.

The "2045" team is working towards creating an international research center where leading scientists will be engaged in research and development in the fields of anthropomorphic robotics, living systems modeling and brain and consciousness modeling with the goal of transferring one’s individual consciousness to an artificial carrier and achieving cybernetic immortality.

An annual congress "The Global Future 2045" is organized by the Initiative to give platform for discussing mankind's evolutionary strategy based on technologies of cybernetic immortality as well as the possible impact of such technologies on global society, politics and economies of the future.


Future prospects of "2045" Initiative for society


The emergence and widespread use of affordable android "avatars" controlled by a "brain-computer" interface. Coupled with related technologies “avatars’ will give people a number of new features: ability to work in dangerous environments, perform rescue operations, travel in extreme situations etc.
Avatar components will be used in medicine for the rehabilitation of fully or partially disabled patients giving them prosthetic limbs or recover lost senses.


Creation of an autonomous life-support system for the human brain linked to a robot, ‘avatar’, will save people whose body is completely worn out or irreversibly damaged. Any patient with an intact brain will be able to return to a fully functioning  bodily life. Such technologies will  greatly enlarge  the possibility of hybrid bio-electronic devices, thus creating a new IT revolution and will make  all  kinds of superimpositions of electronic and biological systems possible.


Creation of a computer model of the brain and human consciousness  with the subsequent development of means to transfer individual consciousness  onto an artificial carrier. This development will profoundly change the world, it will not only give everyone the possibility of  cybernetic immortality but will also create a friendly artificial intelligence,  expand human capabilities  and provide opportunities for ordinary people to restore or modify their own brain multiple times.  The final result  at this stage can be a real revolution in the understanding of human nature that will completely change the human and technical prospects for humanity.


This is the time when substance-independent minds will receive new bodies with capacities far exceeding those of ordinary humans. A new era for humanity will arrive!  Changes will occur in all spheres of human activity – energy generation, transportation, politics, medicine, psychology, sciences, and so on.

Today it is hard to imagine a future when bodies consisting of nanorobots  will become affordable  and capable of taking any form. It is also hard to imagine body holograms featuring controlled matter. One thing is clear however:  humanity, for the first time in its history, will make a fully managed evolutionary transition and eventually become a new species. Moreover,  prerequisites for a large-scale  expansion into outer space will be created as well.


Key elements of the project in the future

• International social movement
• social network immortal.me
• charitable foundation "Global Future 2045" (Foundation 2045)
• scientific research centre "Immortality"
• business incubator
• University of "Immortality"
• annual award for contribution to the realization of  the project of "Immortality”.

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