The concept is that, through thought alone, a person could direct a robotic arm a neural prosthesis to reach and manipulate a desired object.
As a step toward that goal, University of Pittsburgh researchers report that a monkey outfitted with a child-sized robotic arm controlled directly by its own brain signals is able to feed itself chunks of fruits and vegetables. The researchers trained the monkey to feed itself by using signals from its brain that are passed through tiny electrodes, thinner than a human hair, and fed into a specially designed algorithm that tells the arm how to move.
"The beneficiaries of such technology will be patients with spinal cord injuries or nervous system disorders such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or ALS," said Andrew Schwartz, Ph.D., professor of neurobiology at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and senior researcher on the project.
The neural prosthesis moves much like a natural arm, with a fully mobile shoulder and elbow and a simple gripper that allows the monkey to grasp and hold food while its own arms are restrained.
Computer software interprets signals picked up by tiny probes inserted into neuronal pathways in the motor cortex, a brain region where voluntary movement originates as electrical impulses. The neurons' collective activity is then fed through the algorithm and sent to the arm, which carries out the actions the monkey intended to perform with its own limb.
The primary motor cortex,