Monkey See, Monkey Do! General Nonsense 05 FEB 2008

RobotI love it whenever I see Science Fiction become Science Reality. Case in point: The monkey propels the robot.

A couple of weeks ago this remarkable report appeared which tells the story of how a small monkey named Idoya made a rather large humanoid robot walk on a treadmill – using only her brain activity! And to make this story even more amazing – she was in North Carolina, USA while the robot was in Japan.

Basically this is what was done. For a couple of months the researchers trained Idoya to walk on a treadmill. At the same time the scientists were recording the various brain activities and neuron responses to her walking action, generating a language that a computer would be able to understand.

Once all the preliminary work was done, Idoya (who has electrodes implanted in her brain) was then introduced back to her treadmill, this time with a big screen in front of it. On this screen was the live video of the CB (Computational Brain) robot, also standing on his very own treadmill over in Japan. As Idoya began walking along the treadmill, her recorded neuron patterns were fed into CB so that he too began to walk, basically copying Idoya’s thought patterns. The response time was less than a quarter of a second, so Idoya basically became attuned to the robot’s movements.

Backwards and forwards Idoya walked, controlling the robot at every step of the way until the researchers decided to play a trick on her and did something rather unexpected – they stopped the treadmill. As everyone held their breath, Idoya’s eyes remained focussed on CB’s legs and much to everyone’s jubilation, CB continued to walk as Idoya maintained her concentration on the robot.

This is a huge step in showing how it is feasible for humans’ to be able to control equipment like exoskeletons using only the power of their mind, and once we find out how to safely place electrodes in a human brain, this may very well be the next step in creating a new Science Fact!

Once again, a person can’t help but be impressed by human ingenuity. Honestly, sometimes it seems that nothing is impossible for us as a race – except perhaps the creation self-cleaning baths and showers – those things would sell like hotcakes!

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About Craig Lotter

South African software architect and developer at Touchwork. Husband to a cupcake baker and father to two little girls. I don't have time for myself any more.