The researchers then restrained the monkeys' own arms, after which they used a computer to instruct the robotic arms to grab food and bring it to the monkeys' mouth.
After repeatedly observing the computer-controlled process, the monkeys were given several hours a day to practice launching and mimicking the robotic movement simply by means of neural signaling. After several days of trial and error, the monkeys eventually came to take full control of the arms -- displaying a consistent adeptness at initiating and completing brain-signal-controlled prosthetic movements.
The researchers concluded, in fact, that the monkeys ultimately came to view the arms as extensions of their own bodies.
Schwartz said that he and his colleagues are already working on improving their current achievements.
"Right now we can control the arm very well in three dimensions," he explained. "We can reach and grasp with a simple gripper. But there's no dexterity, no fingers. So we're trying to go way beyond what we've already accomplished by adding wrist and finger control in the next year or two. And we're making good progress."
"And in the next couple of years I'm quite sure there'll be humans walking around with these kind of implants," Schwartz added. "I don't think it's very far away at all. In fact, other teams have already implanted a few people with versions of these kind of devices --although they haven't yet matched the kind of performance we achieved with our work."
John F. Kalaska, a professor of neuroscience at the Universite de Montreal in Quebec, said that while several different labs are busy exploring the promise of neuro-prosthetic science, Schwartz's
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