Recently, Dr. Miguel Nicolelis of the Duke University Medical Center was able to form a two-way interaction between the brain of a monkey named Aurora and a virtual object. Using only the neural signals of her brain, Aurora is able to control a virtual arm while her physical arm can remain motionless or she can participate any other activities that require them without sacrificing that link. In trial tests, Aurora must choose between three visually identical virtual objects based on pre-programmed textures assigned to each object, which she can determine through this virtual link.
While the motor neurons of Aurora’s brain work to move the virtual arm, her sensory neurons receive virtual information about each of the objects by running the virtual hand over them so she can virtually sense the texture of each object. The textures themselves were set as varying levels of vibration, one object with a strong vibration, one object with a weak vibration, and one with virtually no vibration.
Experimentally, this virtual arm was linked to the control of a robotic arm, which, because Aurora was able to previously do the allotted tasks using only her brain, she was also able to virtually control.
What I find most astounding about this is the implications that Dr. Nicolelis sees for this breakthrough and how it can physically help humans in the future. People who suffer from any form of paralysis, his focus specifically on quadriplegics, lose both feeling and motion in their afflicted body parts. Should the brain chip that Nicolelis hopes to create be implanted in these paralyzed individuals, he believes that although they may not physically regain motion and feeling, they can virtually regain it. They can relive what it feels like to walk in both the motion and in the feeling of their muscles moving and the ground beneath their feet.
Written by Erica Nader.