Monkeys 'feel' items via brainwaves
Monkeys have been trained to move and feel virtual objects using thought alone in a scientific breakthrough that could help paralysed patients.
Two rhesus monkeys learned to operate a virtual arm with their brain power and were able to differentiate between the textures of virtual objects.
It is hoped this could pave the way for the development of a "robotic exoskeleton" to be worn by severely paralysed people, helping them move and experience the world around them using brainwaves, the senior author of the American study said.
Miguel Nicolelis, co-director of the Duke University Centre for Neuroengineering in Durham, North Carolina, said: "Someday in the near future, quadriplegic patients will take advantage of this technology not only to move their arms and hands and to walk again, but also to sense the texture of objects placed in their hands, or experience the nuances of the terrain on which they stroll with the help of a wearable robotic exoskeleton."
The electrical brain activity of the two rhesus monkeys trained at the centre was used to direct the hands of a virtual monkey shown on a screen - without them moving any part of their real bodies.
The virtual hands were then used to explore the surface of three virtual objects, which looked the same but had been designed to have different textures, which were expressed as tiny electrical signals sent back to the monkeys' brains.
In the task, the monkeys had to search for a virtual object with a particular texture and were rewarded with fruit juice if they correctly identified it.
One of the monkeys needed only four attempts before it learned to select the correct object in the test, while the other took nine attempts.
Prof Nicolelis added: "The remarkable success with non-human primates is what makes us believe that humans could accomplish the same task much more easily in the near future."
The Walk Again Project, led by the Duke Centre for Neuroengineering, wants to carry out a public demonstration of a robotic exoskeleton, which could allow quadriplegic people to move again, at the opening game of the 2014 Football World Cup in Brazil.