Researchers have long been working to put the brain in direct communication with machines. Recent demonstrations have seen animals and humans controlling ever more complex devices—advanced robotic arms and even prosthetic limbs that can provide tactile sensations. Here’s how a monkey, a rat, and a man were able to move matter with their minds.
At the University of Pittsburgh’s MotorLab, Andrew Schwartz and his colleagues have taught a monkey to control a robotic manipulator with 7 degrees of freedom. The monkey received two brain implants, one in the hand area and another in the arm area of its motor cortex. When the researchers place a knob at arbitrary positions in front of the animal, it can maneuver the robotic arm to grasp the knob. Then the monkey can precisely turn the knob by controlling the arm’s mechanical wrist. It’s probably the most complex machine a monkey has ever mastered with its thoughts alone.