Do Not Taunt The Bionic Monkey

When historians of later years look back, as well they may,
It’s clear the reign of cybermonkeys had its start today
Electrodes let a monkey’s brain control a robot’s arm—
It’s scientific progress! There’s no reason for alarm!

My comment for the scientists: I’m questioning the need
For monkeys that can fling their shit at hypersonic speed
I’m not against technology; that’s not my major fuss;
It’s just… shit-flinging monkeys are already too like us.

Real story, after the jump:

Ok, what I really wanted to talk about was Ed Yong’s post on Not Exactly Rocket Science. The science is very cool–monkeys moving robotic arms, and getting tactile feedback from them (that’s the cool new part), via an electrode interface with their cortex. Moving the arm is amazing, but that was a prior accomplishment of this same group. Sensory feedback, though, is what is going to allow such robotic helper limbs to be truly useful. Parenthetically, it thrills me to no end that the sensory feedback does not rely on locating particular neurons: “There are no specific nerves,” says [primary investigator] Nicolelis. “You just give the signals to a general area of neurons and the brain figures it out.”

So, yeah, the science and technology part is way cool. But for my money, the best part of this story is the motivation:

And this is where Nicolelis wants to be in three years: a young quadriplegic Brazilian man strolls confidently into a massive stadium. He controls his four prosthetic limbs with his thoughts, and they in turn send tactile information straight to his brain. The technology melds so fluidly with his mind that he confidently runs up and delivers the opening kick of the 2014 World Cup.

This is not hyperbole; this is the real and specific goal for this project. Ed Yong commented on his own site to mention that they have a particular kid picked out, and the deadline of the World Cup looming large.

If Nicolelis can harness the football fervor of Brazil to gather financial support (public and private) for the project, we may see something even more awe-inspiring and beautiful than Brazilian football in 2014. And that’s saying something.


  1. Pierce R. Butler says

    rob @ # 1: … this is exactly what skynet is waiting for.

    Not quite –

    They’re waiting for
    Rule 34.

  2. Die Anyway says

    Hmmmm… It makes sense that a monkey or other anthropoid would figure out how to use a robotic arm. They (we) are already wired to understand arms, hands and fingers. I wonder if another animal could do it? Say, a dog. Could they ever get the idea of reaching and grasping with a limb?

    In any case, it’s good to see that we are reaching a point where biomechanical substitutes for lost body parts are fully enabling.

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