Saturday, May 31, 2008


Despite our kids having to face a challenging future born by certain factors -- (the ill effects of global warming, dwindling food supply) our men of science continue to explore innovative ideas that may someday yield great benefits. Take the following, for example:

Andrew Schwarz, a neurological engineer at the University of Pittsburgh, has led the new research that enabled two monkeys to feed themselves successfully with a robotic arm wired directly into their brains. This may not bode well for people who are against animal testing, but this research paves the way for someday freeing paraplegics from their wheelchairs or giving amputees their limbs back.

Most people who become paralyzed or lose limbs retain the mental dexterity to perform physical actions. And by tapping into the motor cortex region of the brain which is responsible for movement, researchers can decode a person's intentions and translate them into action with a prosthetic.

This had been done mostly with monkeys and in virtual worlds or with simple movements, such as reaching out a hand. But two years ago, an American team hacked into the brain of a patient with no control over his arms to direct a computer cursor and a simple robotic arm.

Schwarz's team at the University of Pittsburgh, on the other hand, have successfully extracted even more complicated information from the brains of two monkeys by reading the electrical pulses of about 100 brain cells. Normally, millions of neurons fire when we lift an arm or grab a snack, but the signals from a handful of cells are enough to capture the basics, Schwarz says.

His monkeys were able to control a robotic arm that moved at the shoulder and elbow and could clench and open its hand.

To train the monkeys, the researchers first recorded their brain activity as they controlled the robotic arm with a joystick. Once the monkeys had learned to feed themselves in this way, Schwarz's team secured their arms and made them rely on controlling the robot with their brain.

To avoid frustrating the animals during their first attempts, the researchers partially guided the robot themselves. Gradually, these training aids were dispensed with, and after three weeks the monkeys had mastered the robotic arm.

Read complete article here and see the video report here.

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posted by Señor Enrique at 10:27 AM


Anonymous rhodora said...

Beautiful photo!

I always have this urge to tell children I see riding in jeepneys or buses - not to extend their arms from the windows of moving vehicles.

This research by Schwarz can be a welcome breakthrough. I believe people who lack mobility due to loss of arms or legs would love the to be free and independent, albeit artificially.

P.S. I wish you could take more photos of children you see around Manila, Eric. You may make a lovely, single compilation of which. :)

May 31, 2008 5:07 PM  

Blogger BW said...

That's an amazing research for sure. They say that within the next 30 years, advancements in medical research will bring the life expectancy of people to the 100's. Not an impossibility :)

June 01, 2008 8:16 AM  

Blogger Senor Enrique said...

Your wish granted, Rhoda! Check out the next entry :)


June 01, 2008 1:24 PM  

Blogger Senor Enrique said...

I wouldn't mind living to be a hundred so long as I remain independent and able to take care of myself, BW. I'd hate to be a hundred but too feebly and dependent on others' care :(

June 01, 2008 1:27 PM  

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Life in Manila as observed by a former New Yorker who with a laptop and camera has reinvented himself as a storyteller. Winner of the PHILIPPINE BLOG AWARDS: Best Photo Blog in 2007 and three Best Single Post awards in 2008.


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