Monkeys with brain implants can 'feel' virtual reality

In what the brains at Duke University are calling the "first-ever demonstration of a two-way interaction between a primate brain and a virtual body," two monkeys have been wired up with implants that let them "move and feel virtual objects." This could mean big things for medicine, entertainment and VR anime holodecks.

More than just a brain-machine interface, the brain-machine-brain interfaces (BMBIs) enhancing the pair of primates allows them to differentiate texture in a virtual environment. Controlling simian avatars in VR, the duo could reach out and interact with virtual objects, and even identify which was which by the way it felt. Let me say that again: by the way the digital, non-existent object felt.

There were three different objects, each with a different texture that was "expressed as a pattern of minute electrical signals transmitted to the monkeys' brain." The monkeys' avatars were controlled directly by way of the mind, too. So, in the most simple terms this could let you sit back in a seat and play with 3D objects that aren't real.

Of course, that's just the sloth in me getting excited. This could also have some truly wonderful applications in the medical sector, according to Duke Medical Center study leader Miguel Nicolelis:

"Because no part of the animal's real body was involved in the operation of this brain-machine-brain interface, these experiments suggest that in the future patients severely paralyzed due to a spinal cord lesion may take advantage of this technology, not only to regain mobility, but also to have their sense of touch restored…"

The tests could be farther reaching than just the virtual space, too:

"Someday in the near future, quadriplegic patients will take advantage of this technology not only to move their arms and hands and to walk again, but also to sense the texture of objects placed in their hands, or experience the nuances of the terrain on which they stroll with the help of a wearable robotic exoskeleton."

Amazing stuff. You can see a video of virtual monkey hands feeling up gray circles in the video below.

Duke, via Nature, via io9

Awful photoshop above by Kevin Hall using this monkey, this goofy hat, and this Shutterstock image by polygraphus.

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