Scientists at Duke University (North Carolina, USA) and the Graduate School of Economics have conducted successful experiments to create artificial touch in monkeys through direct brain stimulation.
Appropriate technologies can be used in the design of next-generation prostheses that can convey tactile sensations. Work published in magazine
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The technology is based on the fact that by means of electrical stimulation of the somatosensory cortex, tactile sensations in different parts of the body can be induced. The main problem is that
a full-fledged touch involves a set of many senses related to the ability of a living being to evaluate the parameters of the objects with which it interacts. This time, the scientists
tried to answer the question whether it is possible to reproduce a sense of roughness of the surface of the object, affecting directly the somatosensory cortex of the brain.
As part of the experiment, two Bengali macaques were implanted electrodes in certain areas of the somatosensory cortex. Animals were placed opposite the screens on which two were displayed
geometrically identical objects with an invisible eye, a “rough” texture that could only be perceived with a virtual cursor. As soon as the cursor is controlled by the monkeys
special joysticks, crossed one of the strips that mimic roughness, the corresponding section of the animal’s bark was exposed to electrical impulses. As a result, at that point
the body of the monkey, for which the responsible area of the cerebral cortex with the electrode, should have a sensation, almost indistinguishable from the real. In the second stage of the experiment, the joystick is connected to the cursor
and the cursor control signals were read from the brain of monkeys using the brain-computer interface. Naturally, in the process of animal experiments, they were encouraged to choose a more “rough” object.
Monkeys quickly learned how to interpret the electrical signals caused by the interaction of their arbitrary motions and virtual textures, which allowed them to successfully cope with
performance of the task of determining the most “rough” item. Scientists suggest that their approach will help greatly expand the possibility of upper limb neuroprosthesis.
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