Monkeys Move Wheelchairs Using Just Their Thoughts

Mar 30, 2016

Photo credit: Screenshot from Rajangam et al, 2016

By Tia Ghose

Monkeys equipped with wireless brain implants were able to control robotic wheelchairs using only their thoughts, according to a new study.

The brain waves of two rhesus macaques were used to direct motor commands on a motorized wheelchair. The monkeys were initially trained to navigate the wheelchair by simply watching it move, the researchers said. The new findings could one day improve the mobility of the most severely disabled people, such as those with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), who cannot even move a cheek or eye muscle, the scientists added.

“In some severely disabled people, even blinking is not possible,” Dr. Miguel Nicolelis, co-director of the Duke Center for Neuroengineering, said in a statement. “For them, using a wheelchair or device controlled by noninvasive measures like an EEG [electroencephalogram] — a device that monitors brain waves through electrodes on the scalp — may not be sufficient. We show clearly that if you have intracranial implants, you get better control of a wheelchair than with noninvasive devices.”

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4 comments on “Monkeys Move Wheelchairs Using Just Their Thoughts

  • For me that is a deeply disturbing image. Have we actually learnt enough from this experiment to justify this ? It seems we have learnt the not particularly surprising result that tapping into the brain works better than electrodes on the scalp. I’d like to see publications like this be required to publish their ethical justifications as well and what happened to the monkeys afterwards. I’m not opposed to animal experimentation but the more intelligent the animal the more I think it needs careful justification.

    The article is here for anyone interested. I only skimmed it for information.

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  • This image is indeed deeply disturbing. Animal vivisection is unnecessary, unethical, and above all immoral. As Gandhi put it, “All the scientific discoveries stained with innocent blood I count as of no consequence.” I know that Mr. Dawkins doesn’t monitor the news that is posted on his website, but I still cannot believe he allows his staff to advertise pro-animal experimentation articles.

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  • If this is something that science is doing then it is okay that Richard’s staff post it. It is necessary to see the comments. My comment is: That image has ruined my day. I hope there is a human taking care of that monkey as if it were a child or a beloved pet. I would assume that you couldn’t get worthwhile results from something so close to human if it’s mental health was compromised (That’s me trying to make myself feel a little better before I get off to work)…

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  • 4
    bonnie2 says:

    A summation after scant glances at other sites and a bit of TED > tremendous research advances, including a new facility in Brazil that will help local denizens, courtesy the monkeys who receive oranges and grapes as rewards.

    Put a ‘thought bubble’ over one of the monkey’s head; lawyers needed for non-human primates. “My client feels, and I am in complete accord, that…“.

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