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Harnessing Brain Power

Here's an experiment that gives new meaning to mental telepathy. "Harnessing Brain Power" on this Moment of Science.

Here’s an experiment that gives new meaning to mental telepathy.

Scientists at Duke University have trained a monkey to control a robot arm! Monkeys have been doing everything from using sign language to playing video games for years now. But this monkey is different–he can control a robot arm just by thinking about it.

It’s all about harnessing brain power. See, every voluntary movement we make corresponds to electrical activity in the brain that tells our muscles how and when to contract. When we clap our hands, for example, there is a series of “clap hands” electrical signals going on in the brain.

The scientists figured out a way to tap into those signals. They fixed special electrodes in the monkey’s brain and then taught it to use a joystick to move a cursor around a computer screen. Each time the monkey moved the joystick the electrodes transmitted its brain’s electrical signals to a computer.

Soon the computer learned to recognize the electrical patterns and the movements they represented. Then the scientists disabled the joystick and trained the monkey to only think about moving the cursor across the screen. The computer translated the monkey’s brain activity into movement commands and sent them to a robotic arm.

Sure enough, when the monkey thought “move up,” the computer arm moved up. Hopefully, some day this research will allow paraplegics and other disabled people to control robotic limbs with their thoughts.

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