Monkeys are controlling bipedal, walking robots thousands of miles away using only their minds. Miguel Nicolelis, a neuroprosthetics researcher at Duke University, has been working for years on the interface between brain signals and electronics, and in 2003, was able to get his rhesus monkey Aurora to accurately control a robotic arm with her brain. "Aurora realized that she didn’t need to move anymore, she could just imagine the movements and this interface… was able to enact her will," he explained to Scientific American. In Nicolelis’s more recent experiments, signals from the brain of a monkey walking on a treadmill were used in the same way to control a robot in Japan, while it watched video footage of the walking robot in nearly real time. As he notes in a TEDMED presentation below, the control signal's round trip from monkey brain to Kyoto University happened 20 milliseconds faster than an equivalent signal traveling to the monkey's own muscles.
"The new body that the brain controls"
Nicolelis is hopeful that one day the same kind of technology can be used to help people suffering from paralysis by powering a mind-controlled prosthetic exoskeleton — the goal of the multinational Walk Again Project. The plan goes a step beyond mentally controlling prosthetics, says Nicolelis, who aims to have patients completely assimilate the exoskeleton, turning it into "the new body that the brain controls."