This new wireless tech lets monkeys control a wheelchair using just their thoughts

Based on brain implants, it could offer new promise for people suffering from paralysis or ALS

New wireless technology makes it possible for monkeys to control a robotic wheelchair using just their thoughts, without the need for EEG electrodes on the scalp or wires connecting to an external computer.

Developed by neuroscientists at Duke University, the new brain-machine interface relies instead on hair-thin microfilaments implanted in two regions of the monkeys' brains. Using those microfilaments, the wireless BMI -- a device that gets affixed to the monkey's head -- simultaneously records signals from hundreds of neurons in both regions.

As the monkeys think about moving toward their goal, computers translate their brain activity into real-time operation of the wheelchair.

There have been other studies involving thought-controlled wheelchairs, but most rely on EEG and a wired model along with some physical capability in the user. This wireless system could have particularly exciting implications for disabled people who have lost most muscle control and mobility due to quadriplegia or ALS, the researchers said.

“In some severely disabled people, even blinking is not possible,” said Miguel Nicolelis, co-director at the Duke Center for Neuroengineering and senior author on a paper describing the work. “For them, using a wheelchair or device controlled by noninvasive measures like an EEG may not be sufficient. We show clearly that if you have intracranial implants, you get better control of a wheelchair than with noninvasive devices.”

Roughly 70 percent of paralyzed patients are willing to accept surgically implanted electrodes in their brains in order to gain control over their assistive devices, the researchers said.

A paper describing the interface was published Thursday in the online journal Scientific Reports.

The researchers tested their system using two rhesus macaque monkeys, who were motivated by a bowl of fresh grapes. In their tests, they measured the activity of nearly 300 neurons in each of the two monkeys.

Next, researchers hope to expand the experiment by recording more neuronal signals in an effort to increase the accuracy and fidelity of the primate BMI before seeking trials for an implanted device in humans.

Join the newsletter!

Or

Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Katherine Noyes

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Cool Tech

Toys for Boys

Family Friendly

Stocking Stuffer

SmartLens - Clip on Phone Camera Lens Set of 3

Learn more >

Christmas Gift Guide

Click for more ›

Brand Post

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Aysha Strobbe

Microsoft Office 365/HP Spectre x360

Microsoft Office continues to make a student’s life that little bit easier by offering reliable, easy to use, time-saving functionality, while continuing to develop new features that further enhance what is already a formidable collection of applications

Michael Hargreaves

Microsoft Office 365/Dell XPS 15 2-in-1

I’d recommend a Dell XPS 15 2-in-1 and the new Windows 10 to anyone who needs to get serious work done (before you kick back on your couch with your favourite Netflix show.)

Maryellen Rose George

Brother PT-P750W

It’s useful for office tasks as well as pragmatic labelling of equipment and storage – just don’t get too excited and label everything in sight!

Cathy Giles

Brother MFC-L8900CDW

The Brother MFC-L8900CDW is an absolute stand out. I struggle to fault it.

Luke Hill

MSI GT75 TITAN

I need power and lots of it. As a Front End Web developer anything less just won’t cut it which is why the MSI GT75 is an outstanding laptop for me. It’s a sleek and futuristic looking, high quality, beast that has a touch of sci-fi flare about it.

Emily Tyson

MSI GE63 Raider

If you’re looking to invest in your next work horse laptop for work or home use, you can’t go wrong with the MSI GE63.

Featured Content

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?