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A Monkey and His Robotic Hand

By: Fiona Dahlberg

 

Technology has gone long ways in the last 20 years. The idea of having full control of a robotic arm seemed like science fiction (or anime depending on your taste). Today, however, we aren’t actually that far off. In fact, we weren’t far off eight years ago, although not everyone knew it.

 

In 2008, an experiment was done with a monkey and a robotic arm. This monkey had electrodes placed in the motor cortex of its brain, which was connected to the robotic arm. When the monkey moved his arm, the robotic arm moved. He did this for a while and obviously realized what was happening because, at one point, his movement stopped, but the robot kept going. Just imagine the confusion and awe the monkey must have been feeling at the moment he discovered that he was moving the arm! The monkey had figured out in a short period of time how to independently move the robotic arm attached via electrodes. The monkey was able to do more than just move the arm around, it was fully functional. He was able to use it for different tasks, including eating, which is in the attached video. As time went on, the monkey began to do more than eating, it licked the fingers of the arm, adopting it as its own. While it isn’t perfect, it’s pretty awesome to think about what may soon be possible.

 

The main problem is that electrodes in the brain fail after a short time, but I doubt that will last long with improving technology. Through the combined efforts of computers and biologists, it may soon be possible for amputees to have fine control of a robotic limb.