Technology Allows Brain Signals to Trigger Mechanical Arm

Dennis Faas's picture

Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine have taught two monkeys how to feed themselves with a human-like robotic arm using only signals from their brains.

The rate at which technology improves has continued to break down the walls of the impossible on a daily basis. Ideas that were once reserved only for futuristic television shows like The Jetsons and Futurama have slowly crept into the realm of possibility. Sitting in front of your computer screen in North America and sifting through the pages of Le Monde from Paris does not seem to impress us anymore. Typing out a message and sending it half way across the world in a matter of seconds is a thing of the past.

So what unknown is left to conquer?

How about something totally "outside of the box"? What if every time your brain sends out hunger signals to your stomach, a mechanical arm suddenly appears before you with a spoonful of something delicious?

Small electronic probes were implanted into the brains of the monkeys where voluntary movement originates as electrical impulses. Using computer software, these impulses are then transmitted to a mechanical arm which performs the desired actions as the monkey would have done it with its own limb. (Source:

Researchers have stated that the technology is so sophisticated that the monkeys can actually open and close the grippers (acting as fingers) to feed themselves. The "brain-machine interface" was demonstrated before a panel of scientists, where one of the monkeys was observed feeding itself while both of its actual arms were restrained in tube-like devices.

Those who worked closely with the animals said that the monkeys took about a week to train. They learned by first manoeuvring the robotic arm with a joystick, then moved on to a hands-free signal device and finally used only their brain impulses. (Source:

While analysts fear that these new advancements will only make us lazier individuals, researchers have promised that the technology will be used primarily for the development of more effective prosthetics for people with spinal cord injuries and missing limbs.

The initial model that was used to demonstrate the "brain-machine interface" is currently too bulky and immobile, meaning that scientists will have to figure out a way to make the technology more portable and easily accessible if it will be used in the hospitals of the future.

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