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Monkey Wirelessly Controls Wheelchair with its Brain

Although the term BMI may make you think of the “body mass index,” when it comes to cutting edge technology, it means “brain-machine interface.” And it’s this interface—brain activity directly delivering command inputs to external machines in real time—that is now allowing monkeys to guide wheelchairs with their minds, and may one day help paraplegics and quadriplegics have full control over their bodies again.

BMI-Example-03032016A diagram of how a BMI works from Miguel Nicolelis’ 2012 TED talk.

The latest step in liberating “severely paralyzed patients” using BMIs was recently published in Scientific Reports by Duke Health. The team of researchers led by Miguel Nicolelis report on giving two rhesus macaques the ability to control a wheelchair using only inputs from their brains.

Unlike previous studies done with monkeys and BMIs, the participant monkeys in this study did not have to move their bodies in order to teach their brains how to move external machines. This means that even if people have no control over their limbs or muscles, they’ll still be able to learn how to control external machines — critical if paraplegics and quadriplegics are to be helped by this tech.

BMI-Monkey-Wheelchair-03032016

Looking forward, the ultimate goal here is to set up a BMI between a paralyzed person’s brain and an exoskeleton so that she can have complete control over her limbs again. That would be an extraordinary achievement not only because it would give quadriplegics and paraplegics total freedom of movement, but also because, as Nicolelis says in his hyper mind-blowing TED talk, “this is a complete liberation of the brain from the physical constraints of the body in motor [and] perceptual tasks.”

What do you think about this breakthrough in brain-machine interface technology? Use inputs from your brain to control whatever organic or artificial limbs you have near you and let us know in the comments section below!

HT: Gizmodo

Images: Duke Health, Miguel Nicolelis

Video: Duke Health via Super NewsTV

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