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Robotics Technology

Monkey's Thoughts Make Robot Walk 146

geekbits writes "For all those who have at one time or another been too lazy to get up off the couch and go to the fridge and get a beer, heat up some pizza, or change the channel when the remote is missing, we may be one step closer to being able to keep our tushes parked just a little while longer. There may also be some slightly more noble implications here. According to an article in The New York Times, in an experiment at Duke University, a 12-pound, 32-inch monkey made a 200-pound, 5-foot humanoid robot walk on a treadmill using only her brain activity. She was in North Carolina, and the robot was in Japan."
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Monkey's Thoughts Make Robot Walk

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  • monkey business (Score:4, Insightful)

    by seanadams.com ( 463190 ) * on Wednesday January 16, 2008 @09:43PM (#22075118) Homepage
    Being able to read the monkey's brain sounds like the only innovation here, not making the robot walk. Reading between the lines, it doesn't sound like the monkey is really controlling the robot in any real sense at all.

    Several things make me question that. One, why is the robot in north Carolina and the monkey in Japan? It's just for show. Nothing of scientific significance is being demonstrated by that. We all know that internet can connect two gizmos across large distances. The experiment could have been conducted much more simply at one location and made no less effective a point (except to clueless investors maybe).

    Secondly, because of the distance, there is a significant delay (TFA says 250ms, about what I might have guessed.) This would seem to preclude the monkey being able to control the robots actuators in any direct sense. I.e. lift thigh, swing lower leg forward, position foot, lower thigh, positioning body over front leg. Walking is a "controlled fall". No way you could issue all those commands 250ms ahead of seeing or feeling their effect. You'd trip and fall.

    So, what is the monkey really doing? I doubt if he is even thinking "left, right, left, right" because even that would be hard to coordinate with so much lag.

    Finally, why is there a damn robot in the first place? Wouldn't it be much easier to have the commands control a computer animation? You could do that in such a way that the model would look much more interesting to the monkey... it could look like another monkey, a giant walking banana, whatever.

    My guess is that they are simply getting a binary command value from the monkey: "walk" or "don't walk". And the whole robot thing is just for effect. I hate to be such a cynic but this looks like showmanship, not science. If that is the case then this is equivalent to the simple video games that have been demonstrated using brain control.

    However, I could certainly imagine that the journalist totally failed to understand the experiment and maybe something important was lost in his explanation of it.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Macrosoft0 ( 1128625 )

      So, what is the monkey really doing? I doubt if he is even thinking "left, right, left, right" because even that would be hard to coordinate with so much lag.
      actually, he was most likely thinking "up up down down left right left right B A select start"
    • Re:monkey business (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Reivec ( 607341 ) on Wednesday January 16, 2008 @10:03PM (#22075364)
      I think the distance is easy to explain, and I doubt it was for show. The research seems to originate from Duke. They likely decided they wanted to see if a monkey could control a humanoid robot but making a robot to see so was outside of the scope of what they were trying to do, they are just making the interface. So they searched out some other team making humanoid robots (which Japan seems to have a lot of). It was likely much easier to setup an internet link to connect the two groups as opposed to meeting in the same location. To meet you would have to move a lot of people and a lot of equipment, all of which would be a customs nightmare. Moving monkeys back and forth over international borders probably requires a lot of checks and paperwork and what not, just as I am sure moving research technology does as well, especially something that large.

      To sum up, it was a hell of a lot cheaper and faster that way.
    • by TimeTraveler1884 ( 832874 ) on Wednesday January 16, 2008 @10:09PM (#22075434)

      why is the robot in north Carolina and the monkey in Japan?
      First of all, the robot was in Japan and the monkey in North Carolina. Because as everyone knows, Japan is the only country with an abundant supply of giant robots [wikipedia.org].
    • Re:monkey business (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Puff_Of_Hot_Air ( 995689 ) on Wednesday January 16, 2008 @10:13PM (#22075476)
      The article is not claiming that the Monkey is directly controling actuators. The monkey is walking, and the signals from it's brain (several hundred neurons), are being used to control the walking motion of the robot. Obviously the processing of monkey neurons response -> robot control is being performed in software specifically tuned to this one monkey with implants. The interesting thing about this experiment is not that they trained a monkey to walk a robot (they didn't), but rather that the monkey was able to keep the robot walking after it had stopped moving itself. This means that all those neurons that the researches are triggering the walking motions from are still going when the monkey thinks about walking but doesn't actually do it. We've known the brain is capable of this for some time, but this is the first experiment I have seen that appears to involve more than a simple "go stop" form of response. If they have tapped enough neurons to control all the actuators required for a robot to walk, then this is news indeed.
      • by hitmark ( 640295 )
        i recall reading about a similar experiment using a robot arm, a joystick and a monkey.

        at first the monkey controlled the arm using the joystick while a computer did brain reads.

        then they turned of the joystick, but let the monkey still have it, and used only the brain signals for control.

        iirc, at some point the monkey let go of the joystick and just sat there while the arm kept moving, something that was not planed by the researchers at all. basically the monkey was controlling the arm by thought alone.

      • by Anonymous Coward
        The signals in the brain are calling to learned motion patterns stored remotely in the ganglia (little brain-like things attached to the spine). A good computer analogy would be shader programs--the software makes very vague system calls (render these triangles), which cause separate (shader) programs to actually draw the graphics from inside the video card.

        What these guys are doing is capturing the "system calls" from the brain, and sending them to *their own* central pattern generators in the robot. Accor
    • Re:monkey business (Score:4, Informative)

      by FailedTheTuringTest ( 937776 ) on Wednesday January 16, 2008 @10:18PM (#22075540)

      TFA is not very clear about the most important part of this, but other [informationweek.com] reports [eetimes.com] spell it out more clearly: "The most stunning finding is that when we stopped the treadmill and the monkey ceased to move its legs, it was able to sustain the locomotion of the robot for a few minutes -- just by thinking -- using only the visual feedback of the robot in Japan."

      The reason for using a robot rather than an animation is that they wanted to prove that neural signals could actually be used to drive real motors. I also think it's interesting that they worked out how to interpret neural signals in the brain by correlating neural impulses with the monkey's own leg motions, this was not a case of intercepting signals traveling along muscle-control nerves. I agree there seems to be no particular reason other than showmanship to do this intercontinentally, though! And in fact the monkey was able to keep the system working through a 250 ms delay, which is an interesting finding because it means that such systems don't need to respond to controls instantly but can tolerate some delay. However, they didn't really need to be on different continents to test that.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      > Several things make me question that. One, why is the robot in north Carolina and the monkey in Japan? It's just for show. Nothing of scientific significance is being demonstrated by that. We all know that internet can connect two gizmos across large distances. The experiment could have been conducted much more simply at one location and made no less effective a point (except to clueless investors maybe).

      If you had built a robot in Japan and your friend figured out a way to read a monkeys thoughts in N
    • Re:monkey business (Score:5, Insightful)

      by yet another coward ( 510 ) <yacowardNO@SPAMyahoo.com> on Wednesday January 16, 2008 @10:53PM (#22075892)

      Being able to read the monkey's brain sounds like the only innovation here, not making the robot walk.

      No, reading the monkey's brain has been done many times before. This report is gee-whiz, but nothing in it is very innovative.

      So, what is the monkey really doing? I doubt if he is even thinking "left, right, left, right" because even that would be hard to coordinate with so much lag.

      When you walk, you don't think "left, right, left, right." A lot of the rhythm generator is accomplished by central pattern generators, many of the ones involved are in the spinal cord. The same way the brain engages the walk routine built into downstream parts of the nervous system, the brain can engage the walk routine built into a Japanese robot.

      Finally, why is there a damn robot in the first place?

      There is a robot because this group's ultimately goal is to develop neural prosthetics. They have done experiments controlling computer animations, as have quite a few other research groups.

      My guess is that they are simply getting a binary command value from the monkey: "walk" or "don't walk".

      You have a good point here. How finely grained is the monkey's control of the robot? The article does not tell us. I looked unsuccessfully for a corresponding scientific publication. I hope this study is published soon with more details about how specific and how precise the control really is.
      • by jellie ( 949898 )
        Just to add a few points:

        Electrophysiology in the monkey (or other animals like cats) has been done for decades. I doubt Miguel Nicolelis [wikipedia.org] was the first to create a neural prosthetic, but he has been very successful at doing so. Some of his publications are listed in that article, and a link to his lab website is there too.

        I first heard about him on a rerun of the PBS show "Innovations" that discussed several prosthetics [pbs.org], including Dobelle's vision prosthetic. The episode aired in 2004, which meant it was pr
      • You have a good point here. How finely grained is the monkey's control of the robot? The article does not tell us.

        Actually the article does mention that they mapped the neurons firing during each portion of the motion.
        • How long is a portion? How sensitive is the control to temporal resolution? How many neurons were recorded? What was the decoding strategy? What was the information rate of the recorded neural signal in bits per second?

          These questions are some of the ones I had in mind. The article does not go into this level of detail.
      • by jdgeorge ( 18767 )
        When you walk, you don't think "left, right, left, right."

        Perhaps not, but I understand that when monkeys walk, they think, "Developers, developers, developers."
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by unbug ( 1188963 )

      One, why is the robot in north Carolina and the monkey in Japan?
      Ah, a new joke. I'll have a go. They prefer intelligent design in Carolina and evolution in Japan?
    • by foobsr ( 693224 ) *
      Walking is a "controlled fall"

      Not necessarily; depends how much you lean forward and where you (thus) have your center of gravity.

      While I agree that the model is considered 'normal' within so called 'Western' societies, it is not the most efficient (IMHO).

    • This is a combination of previous works.

      Monkey mind reading has been done before.
      Monkey controlling a robotic arm has been done before too, and as far as I remember, the monkey even got it to the point of controlling the robotic arm without moving herself.
      Remote controlling of robots has been done before (trans-atlantic surgery operation, the surgeon operating the robot in the US and the patient being in Europe).
      And as pointed by other /.ers, research on walking robot seems so common in Japan that it's prob
    • Thank You SLASHDOT for sharing this !!!

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    • It is not the monkey's fault he can't coordinate and plan several steps in advance to get many multiple commands a second out to its robot units. And with all the negative reinforcement, people on the internet "shocking the monkey" when he didn't do right, well who can blame the poor monkey.

      If they really wanted a good test, they would have used a champion Starcraft player from South Korea! Talk about reflexes and planning. These guys can issue so many commands a second it boggles the mind.
  • by FalconZero ( 607567 ) * <FalconZeroNO@SPAMGmail.com> on Wednesday January 16, 2008 @09:43PM (#22075126)
    ...but the feedback was lousy.

    Monkey : Move Foot Forward
    600ms later...
    Robot : OK....Oh no, I'm falling over, quick move the other foot
    600ms later...
    Monkey : Move Other Foot Forward
    600ms later...
    Robot : I can't do that dave, I've fallen over

    Although I assume in actuallity they left most of the balance control to the robot end of things; either that or the Monkey was psychic.
    (Or more likely they've got a nice low-latency academic link)
    • Looking at the video on the nytimes page, it appeared that the robot was holding no weight with its legs. They were almost swinging loose and being propelled by the tredmil. Also, the damn monkey in the video was animated. I call BS.
      • I don't think it's BS, it's just that they've barely figured out how to interpret brain activity (this is very different from tapping in to signals traveling along nerves that lead to muscles) and translate that into signals that can control motors. The robot's legs were just hanging freely, and yes they will have a lot more to do before they can demonstrate balance control.

        It's interesting that no actual pictures of the monkey seem to have been published... my theory is that the monkey is in such a wired-
      • by JanneM ( 7445 )
        Not BS, and yes, it's being run in real time.

        But first, you don't show the actual experimental animal, especially when it's in the US. For security as well as PR reasons, few labs accept filming experiments directly. Second, no, the robot isn't balancing. Just getting the actual motor responses is plenty for now (as you guess, the actual feedback can't be done directly since the body and configuration isn't the same; you need to "translate" intention).
    • I thought monkey hates technology...
    • But just imagine how funny it would be if it were narrated by Pete Smith.
  • In Soviet Russia, monkey control you!
  • What the article fails to stress properly, is that the robot had no other power supply other than the monkeys supercharged thoughts.

    SUre controlling the robot with your brain is kind of cool, but when it has no power supply - now that's cool!
  • http://graphics8.nytimes.com/images/2008/01/14/science/0115-sci-ROBOTa_large.jpg [nytimes.com]

    Tell me that graphic didn't come from The Onion.
    • Hmm, I'm envisioning a movie combining Planet of the Apes and The Terminator. *shivers*
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by moosesocks ( 264553 )
      Sadly, real news more and more seems to resemble The Onion these days.

      Perhaps even more alarmingly, quite a few of their more outlandish stories have actually come true several years later.

      (This [theonion.com] being one of the funniest such stories...)
  • It would be interesting to see how they mapped the neurons -> robot. Something like this:

    Neuron Mapping Factor Adjustment(TM):
    Direct Neuron Mapping |-------||---| "Thinking about walking patterns" triggers robot walking code.

    • by megaditto ( 982598 ) on Wednesday January 16, 2008 @10:22PM (#22075576)
      The basic idea is quite simple: start by sampling a whole bunch of neurons (usually a local EEG or fMRI of some sort). Then,

      In humans, obtain two recordings (one blank and one while thinking about doing X), then diff the two and map to X'.
      In monkeys, also get two recordings (one blank and one while doing X), then diff the two and also map to X', hoping that doing X reads the same as thinking about doing X.

      You'd need to repeat these steps a bunch of times to get good signal to noise, and also need several controls (thinking about Y, Z) to make sure the mapping is specific enough. Normally, the technique is just good enough to allow quadriplegics to click buttons and such, but takes lots of effort and patience (and lots of costly equipment).
      • Re: (Score:1, Funny)

        by kcbanner ( 929309 ) *
        Ah, a mind-diff. Thanks for the info :)
      • Re: (Score:1, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward
        So you mean they need to get a woman to do this then? Can you just see a man doing it?

        Step 1: Take reading "thinking of nothing" (in reality thinking of banging female researcher)
        Step 2: Take reading "thinking of walking" (thinking of banging female researcher on treadmill)
        Step 3: Lose funding when you can't explain why the robot keeps doing, ahem - what it is doing
  • by xirtap ( 955611 ) on Wednesday January 16, 2008 @10:05PM (#22075388)
    Your arms are hanging limp at your sides, your legs got nothing to do. Some machine, doing that for you.
  • I like how the NYT article includes a video of the robot, but not of the monkey. What they don't want everyone to see is some heavily drugged up monkey with all manner of electrodes protruding out of its brain (possibly exposed). Way to sanitize reality so most people will find it palatable. What's the point of the robot anyway? This essentially seems like a brain mapping exercise. So the the monkey brain could have been mapped to anything, including a simple animation.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      This is a different monkey, but same concept... he doesn't look particularly drugged nor do I see any exposed brain.
      http://www.random-good-stuff.com/2007/02/20/video-monkey-controls-robotic-arm-with-mind-beware-of-robot-monkeys/ [random-good-stuff.com]

      The point? Proof of concept for investors I would suspect. Tele presence is now much more closer to reality. There will be big money in this stuff down the line. I remember reading a forward looking military report that planned on mind controlled planes in 2020 or something like
    • by guruevi ( 827432 )
      There are no nerve endings in your brain so your brain won't feel probes sticking in it. The only pain you (or the monkey) might feel is when the skin on the head gets pierced and the vibrations of the drill into the skull and for that there are local anesthetics available.

      Yes, I work in brain research.
  • I want my robot to do my house work and fetch me beer and food, not hang from the light fitting and throw faeces at me.
  • .. for the 500 ft, fire breathing, radioactive robot due to be terrorizing Tokyo in the next Japanese B-Movie.
  • Those scientists might have gotten hit with whatever could be robot poop.
  • I didn't see "Monkey's". Even if I'd seen "Monkeys'", I'd think several monkeys in series, but not in unison/parallel/hive/collective. I'm thinking BORG VINCULUM. As described by one 7of9 (oh, I wish she were mine...)... anyway...

    I see an infinite number of monkeys (chimpanzees) and an infinite number of T9-alloy exoskeletons, and I STILL don't see War and Peace. I see WAR and PIECES (of battle-wrecked exoskeletons...

    NO, I not am on durgs.
  • monkey thoughts (Score:4, Informative)

    by dominious ( 1077089 ) on Wednesday January 16, 2008 @10:33PM (#22075696)
    i was looking at this today: http://sciencehack.com/videos/view/TK1WBA9Xl3c [sciencehack.com]
    watch after 0:44, the monkey learnt how to control the robotic arm with its thoughts in order to feed itself:)
  • Just one actual guy with a Sousaphone can now control an entire robotic marching band. Won't that be spectacular on 5th Avenue in November?
  • Call me when you can get a monkey to make Supreme Court appointments.

    Oh wait...

    • Call me when the robot can control the monkey with its android thoughts.
  • ...and the poo was flung as far as South Korea.
  • I for one welcome our new robot-controlling, monkey overlords. And on a serious note, I heard something similar being done about 10 years ago, people could be hooked up to a machine and would use a certain brain pulse or something to move a train around a track.
  • Yes, but... (Score:3, Funny)

    by HtR ( 240250 ) on Wednesday January 16, 2008 @10:57PM (#22075912)
    Sounds like a good concept, but I don't understand how to get a monkey on the other side of the world to think about getting me my beer and pizza?
  • We've had a monkey running American government for 7 years now.
  • I remember hearing about this information many many years ago, when they had managed to get the monkey to control a robot arm. It seems they are moving up in the world, or, as the poster above states, they are merely programming a robot to walk and a monkey to think "walk." Regardless, the six-year-old article, http://web.mit.edu/newsoffice/2000/monkeys-1206.html/ [mit.edu] gives some context to what they have been doing.
  • Controversy continued on Monday as surgeons successfully transplanted little Jango's brain into a robot monkey body.

    Scientists now say human-to-robot brain transplants will be possible within ten years.

    On a sad note, however, Jango died late Tuesday after drinking his own urine.

  • In particular, in dangerous areas, such as Nukes, police incursions, or even on the battle field. Perhaps one of the more interesting ones will be on the moon. THe delay is short enough that a group of ppl can be trained to slow down their reaction and then uses these for doing construction. I suspect that it might even be interesting in space. Want to fix some something on the outside of the ISS or bigelow? Just control the robot from inside.
  • ...and monkeys really could fly out of my ass.
  • Monkeys Thoughts Make Robot Walk.

    Well I guess that answered that. Now what about the "Ninja vs Pirate" question?
  • Robots always crave the blood of those who control them. Monkeys don't get a free ride.
  • *Yawn* Robot Monkey overlords... something about welcoming... you know the drill. I don't feel like writing it all out.
  • So, we already put weapons on robots, and now we're giving the robots to the monkeys. Logically, the next step will be monkey-controlled robots with weapons.

    And I thought the holodeck would be the last thing we ever invented...
  • And we are now one step closer to that robot monkey butler!
  • The mind boggles.
  • Five foot robots are so last year. Now, five assed robots...
  • and it's insulting to monkeys to suggest that he is. He is (unfortunately, IMO) a member of the species arrogant enough to call itself "homo sapiens sapiens". In math, one counter-example is enough to disprove a hypothesis. Certainly GW is enough of a counter-example to disprove the intelligence (or wisdom) of the species (which doesn't prevent some, very few, apparently, instances of the species from being intelligent).
  • For some reason this reminds me of this story [edp.org]. Ah yes, the memories. You kids wouldn't understand.
  • one banana at a time.
  • A robot? The monkeys are supposed to control typewriters. Once an infinite number of them are thusly connected, and only then, can we finally determine if they will produce all the great books.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Infinite_monkey_theorem [wikipedia.org]

    1. Clone infinite number of monkeys
    2. Use new monkey-brain interface to connect to typewriters
    3. Wait for all great books to be written
    4. ???
    5. Profit!!!
    • Finally we have a chance to make this come true! A Beowulf cluster of Robot-monkeys should be so much more efficient than just running them individually!
  • If the robot weighs 200 lbs and is only 5 ft tall, I think the robot is the lazy one. It's about time it got on a treadmill.
  • How are you gentlemen!!
    All your banana are belong to us.
    You are on the way to the complete works of Shakespeare.
  • I, for one -- banana banana want me banana give now banana -- Jojo, stop i -- GIVE NOW BANANA ME BANANA GIVE.
  • This topic becomes a lot more interesting if you ignore both TFA and the summary.

    Then you can imagine that robots have been designed to think like monkeys, which I think we can all agree, would be the substance of the article, in a world better than the one we are currently living in.
  • Why didnt they show a picture of the monkey hooked up and walking, or there thinking? in the video they use a cgi monkey, where is the real one? Kevin
  • comment first?

    Mech Warriors?
    Monkey overlords?

    I give up.
  • I hope they are smart enough to keep around a "scratch" monkey for use during hardware maintenence. :-)

    From the jargon file [catb.org]:

    "Before testing or reconfiguring, always mount a scratch monkey", a proverb used to advise caution when dealing with irreplaceable data or devices. Used to refer to any scratch volume hooked to a computer during any risky operation as a replacement for some precious resource or data that might otherwise get trashed.

    This term preserves the memory of Mabel, the Swimming Wonder Monkey, st

  • Scientists have now given the powers of the Robot to the Monkey. Now it is time for scientists to splice the DNA from Pirates and Ninjas. In the future, armies of Robot-Monkeys will battle the clone armies of the Ninja-Pirates for the fate of all mankind.

"If it's not loud, it doesn't work!" -- Blank Reg, from "Max Headroom"