Mind-Controlled Mice Navigate Mazes, No Longer Crave Food

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Being a literal lab rat has its perks. Free room and board. Plus all your diseases, from blindness to cancer, get cured. Suddenly one day you realize you’re no longer thirsty… how neat!

There are downsides, like the fact that the researchers give you those diseases in the first place. And now you can’t even make your own way to the other side of a damn maze without having your brain controlled by a device that tells you where to go.

Researchers at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology recently created cyborg mice that obeyed the commands of their human overlords, ignoring sex and food cravings entirely, to make it thorough a maze. To do this, the team of researchers “hacked” into the mice’s brains using a technique called optogenetics — a process in which fiberoptic threads (or similar tools) are inserted into the brain to manipulate the activity of neurons in living tissue. Turning these threads on and off affect light-responsive proteins, influencing their function.

For this experiment, researchers made a mouse crave a ball that was placed in front of it, then chase it wildly. Turning the signal off immediately made the mouse completely disinterested in the ball. Whether the mice seemed completely bewildered by their dramatic change in desires was not altogether clear (or, at least, observable).

Next, the researchers took control of the cyborg mouse, steering it through a vicious trial maze of distractions: a female mouse in heat, an Indiana-Jones-like bridge obstacle, and plenty of delicious food. With the mind-control switch flipped to “on,” the scientists were able to steer the mouse straight to the other end of the maze.

And what’s the point, you may rightfully ask? The team imagines the technology could help officials control animals needed to complete scent-sensitive missions, like search and rescue, landmine detection, and sniffing out drugs.

Compared to the stiff, stumble-prone (yet determined) robots of today, animals are far more agile and able to cross treacherous terrain. “Animals are naturally able to live and move through complex environments and, of course, do not need batteries,” Daesoo Kim, project lead, tells IEEE Spectrum.

Indeed, scientists have created “remote-controlled” animals before, mostly as a proof of concept. Last year the team developed a “parasitic robot” that was mounted to the back of a turtle, and controlled its movements with a “heads-up LED display” and feeder. In 2012, researchers created cyborg cockroaches that manipulated its sensory organs with the use of a wireless transmitter glued to its back, but with external stimuli, not optogenetics.

You might wonder when this kind of technology could be used in humans. There are medical uses for deep brain stimulation, such as treatments of Parkinson’s disease. But as for using optogenetics to help us avoid snack foods, seems like we’re a ways off.

The post Mind-Controlled Mice Navigate Mazes, No Longer Crave Food appeared first on Futurism.


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Florida Man Becomes First Person to Live With Advanced Mind-Controlled Robotic Arm

Mind-Controlled Robotic Arm

Prosthetics have advanced drastically in recent years. The technology’s potential has even inspired many, like Elon Musk, to ask whether we may be living as “cyborgs” in the not-too-far future. For Johnny Matheny of Port Richey, Florida, that future is now. Matheny, who lost his arm to cancer in 2005, has recently become the first person to live with an advanced mind-controlled robotic arm. He received the arm in December and will be spending the next year testing it out.

The arm was developed by Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab as part of their program Revolutionizing Prosthetics. The aim of the program, which is funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), is to create prosthetics that are controlled by neural activity in the brain to restore motor function to where it feels entirely natural. The program is specifically working on prosthetics for upper-arm amputee patients. While this particular arm has been demoed before, Matheny will be the first person to actually live with the prosthesis. The program does hope to have more patients take the tech for a longterm test run, though.

While the prosthetic device is impressive, it’s not a limitless, all-powerful robot arm. Matheney won’t be able to get the arm wet and is not allowed to drive while wearing it. Keeping a few rules in mind, Matheney will otherwise be free to push the tech to the edge of its capabilities, truly exploring what it can do.

Revolutionizing Prosthetics

The word cyborg might elicit images of cartoon supervillains, but the integration of advanced robotics into medical prosthetics has been largely positive, even life-changing, for many patients. In some cases, the devices have been able to restore their motor and sensory abilities. The introduction of “mind-controlled” robotic prosthetics will allow patients with amputations, traumatic injuries, or who were born without a limb to utilize a complete and full range of motion. What’s most impressive is that the prosthetics will allow them to do this in a way that feels “natural.”

The two major components of the current prosthetic “test” will be to determine how technically capable the arm is and how well it’s controlled by Matheny’s brain. If these robotic limbs controlled solely by thought can be designed and successfully used, it would revolutionize prosthetics. Artificial limbs could then become much more organic; working with an individual patient’s movements, intentions, and body.

If the year of testing proves successful, what could it mean for the future of prosthetics? Or for the prospect of cyborgs? Aside from the many ways in which it benefits patients using prosthetic limbs, the technology might also prove to be useful in some unexpected places — like a journey to Mars.

Elon Musk has said that if humans are to keep up with machines, to explore the far reaches of our Solar System, to venture beyond what already know to be possible, we will likely need to merge with machines. Biologically, human beings have clear and strict limitations. But, if we were assisted or augmented by mind-controlled mechanical attachments, humans of the future could redefine those limits.

The post Florida Man Becomes First Person to Live With Advanced Mind-Controlled Robotic Arm appeared first on Futurism.


New Mind-Controlled Prosthetics Are Poised To Transform Humanity

Prosthetics and Mind Control

According to studies presented at Neuroscience 2017, the annual gathering of the Society for Neuroscience, technology that allows prosthetics to be controlled by the human brain is progressing at an unprecedented rate.

There are millions of people around the world that are unable to use some part of their body as a result of illness, injury, or amputation. While the field of prosthetics has come a long way, even the best solutions typically only offer partial functionality.

“Unlike many pharmacological or biologic therapies to help people with neurological injuries or disease, engineering solutions have the potential for immediate and sometimes dramatic restoration of function,” said Leigh Hochberg of Massachusetts General Hospital, Brown University, a neurotechnology expert who moderated the conference. “It is really exciting to see how the growth of fundamental neuroscience and neuroengineering research over many years is leading to the creation of technologies that will help to reduce the burden of neurological and psychiatric disease.”

However, we’re now able to create prosthetics that interface directly with the human nervous system and organic tissue. By leveraging advances in brain-computer interfaces, we might be able to produce replacement body parts that offer far more capability than is currently available.

The findings presented at the event included word that neural signals from a spinal cord taken from a rodent had been used to control cultured muscle fibers in a lab setting. This could cultivate further investigations into how the nervous system controls the movement of a body.

An amputee’s prosthetic hand was also shown to improve the subject’s motor skills and reduce phantom pain, contributing to a greater sense of ownership over the replacement body part. Furthermore, a tetraplegic patient was seen to adapt their neural activity in order to maintain control of a brain-computer interface.

These developments are all very encouraging in their own right, but taken as a whole they demonstrate just how quickly this field is progressing forward. The next few years should yield some impressive results in terms of new prosthetics – and we’re already seeing some groundbreaking projects come to pass.

Augmented Humans

It’s a grim reality that soldiers often need prosthetic limbs once their tour of duty comes to an end. To that end, the US Department of Veteran Affairs has become a major force in pushing forward the state of prosthetics. The research and development that it supports doesn’t just benefit military personnel, but all manner of people.

The First Cyborg Olympics [INFOGRAPHIC]
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Lots of work is being done to ensure that replacement limbs are better than ever before – but it’s not just the top tier of prosthetics that are being improved. 3D printing is allowing for solutions to become more widely available and at a lower cost.

The ability to replace body parts isn’t just limited to prosthetic limbs. A 3D printed heart recently underwent trials, and could reportedly perform all the functions of the real thing. There are even ongoing efforts to create wireless ‘cyborg eyes’ that would allow blind people to see once again.

New advances in brain-computer interfaces could benefit all kinds of projects. Whether it’s a replacement eye, or a prosthetic leg, the ability to control the synthetic body part as naturally as possible is a huge step forward from previous methodology.

The post New Mind-Controlled Prosthetics Are Poised To Transform Humanity appeared first on Futurism.


Mind-controlled bionic hand can help stroke patients move again

A team of scientists from the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis have proven that the mind-controlled device they developed can help stroke survivors regain control of their hands. Stroke typically causes paralysis on one side of t…
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