Scientists Successfully Use Monkey Brains to Control Wheelchairs

We are officially in the process of evolving beyond the human machine interface (HMI). Whereas people normally interact with machines via consoles that are operated with the press of a button or, more recently, hand gestures, scientists are well on their way to creating machines controlled by our thoughts alone.

And now this technology has made its way into the testing phase for new wheelchair models.

A New Method of Wheelchair Control

We have written before about the advancements researchers have made when it comes to mind-controlled machines, robotic arms and more, and have also made predictions that this technology could possibly make its way into wheelchair van conversions. While this technology is still far away, scientists are well on their way to perfecting a mind-controlled wheelchair.

Scientists taught a pair of rhesus macaques, the species of monkey made famous when NASA launched them into space in the 1950s, to navigate a wheelchair around a room by merely thinking about where they wanted it to go.

How it Was Done

Getting a monkey to think about moving a wheelchair may seem like an impossible task, but the process was made easy by an extraordinarily simple item: a bowl of grapes.

Scientists started by securing the monkeys into control chairs and placing a bowl of grapes across the room from them. The monkeys, unable to move but obviously wanting the tasty treat, were only able to think about moving in that direction. Scientists then recorded their brain activity, including the monkeys thinking about moving across the room. Using this data, they were able to replicate the process when the monkeys were hooked up to the wheelchair. Once the monkeys thought about moving to the bowl of grapes, the chair would move in tandem.

At first, the process was slow, with the monkeys making several wrong turns in the wheelchair, but over time, they were able to reach their goal with fewer mistakes and wrong turns.

Helping Those with Severe Disabilities

If implemented properly, mind controlled wheelchairs can be a huge help to those with very severe disabilities caused by accidents and degenerative diseases. For example, those who are unable to move their faces or even blink, mind controlled wheelchairs present a way for them to move about independently.

We can only hope that the technology increases with efficiency and speed.

What do you think about mind-controlled wheelchairs? Are they on the horizon, or still just a distant dream? Join the conversation by commenting below!

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