Monkey Avatar: Wired Primates Can Move and Feel Virtual Objects
October 6th, 2011
Movies like The Planet of the Apes and The Rise of the Planet of the Apes just freak me out sometimes. I mean, so we’ve been told that our closest ancestors are these primates because apparently, we’ve got a lot in common with these animals. For one, they’re really smart and catch on pretty fast. In fact, man’s genetic difference with monkeys is estimated only at 1.6%. But what a difference that percentage makes.
Since human beings are so naturally curious, some scientists have implanted several monkeys with implants that have allowed them to “move and feel virtual objects” much like humans can do with just their (well, our) imaginations. These researchers from the Duke University Center for Neuroengineering say they have achieved the “first-ever demonstration of a two-way interaction between a primate brain and a virtual body” using brain-machine-brain interfaces.
Like Jake Sully in Cameron’s Avatar, these primates were able to control simian avatars in a virtual world filled with virtual objects. What was impressive was that they were able to identify what an object was, simply by feeling it out virtually in the virtual world. Now that’s virtual identification.
Neurobiology professor Miguel Nicolelis, who serves as the leader for the study, describes some practical uses for this technology in the future: “We hope that in the next few years this technology could help to restore a more autonomous life to many patients who are currently locked in without being able to move or experience any tactile sensation of the surrounding world.”
…or we could use it to send monkeys into space to convince some aliens to give up their Unobtanium.