A brain implant that allows monkeys to move an avatar’s arm and feel objects in a virtual world has been demonstrated for the first time. The animals used the device to control the arm by thought alone, and feel the texture of the objects it touched through electrical signals sent directly to their brains.
Researchers built the system as part of a major effort to help paralysed people regain the use of their arms and legs, feeling the objects they touch and the ground they walk on.
Without any sensation of touch, it would be easy for people to crush or drop objects they were trying to grasp, or misjudge the terrain underfoot and stumble, the scientists said.
Miguel Nicolelis, who led the research team at Duke University in North Carolina, said the technology was a milestone in his group’s bid to restore natural movement and fine control to paralysed people.
Nicolelis is working with colleagues at the Technical University in Munich to build a whole-body “exoskeleton” that can move people’s paralysed limbs in response to brain activity picked up by the implant.
“The patient will be able to use their brain to control their movement, but they could also get sensations back from their legs, arms and hands,” Nicolelis told the Guardian.
“We are looking to have a demonstration of this in time for the World Cup in 2014. When the Brazilian team walks on to the field, we want them accompanied by two quadriplegic teenagers who will walk on to the pitch and kick the ball using this technology.”
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