This monkey’s gone to heaven

Paul Raven @ 31-12-2009

monkey cosmonaut in training?I had to agree with Jay Lake when he Tweeted that Any article with the line “Any monkeys sent into space will be supervised by robots.” is totally FTW’. [image by kiewic]

And here is that article… which is actually just a short post on the Freakonomics blog pointing to a longer piece at the Telegraph, which describes Russian plans to simulate a Mars mission using simian cosmonauts:

The Institute is in preliminary talks with Russia’s Cosmonautics Academy about preparing monkeys for a simulated Mars mission that could lay the groundwork for sending an ape to the Red Planet, he said.

Such an initiative would build on Mars-500, a joint Russian-European project that saw six human volunteers confined in a capsule in Moscow for 120 days earlier this year to simulate a Mars mission.

Mr Mikvabia said: “Earlier this programme was aimed at sending cosmonauts, people (to Mars).

“But given the length of the flight to Mars, and given the cosmic rays for which we don’t have adequate protection over such a long trip, discussions have focused recently on sending an ape instead of a person.”


If Russia pursues the idea of sending monkeys to Mars, Mikvabia’s institute could become the site of an enclosed “biosphere” where apes would be kept for long periods to simulate space flights.

The Institute said a robot would accompany the first primate to Mars to feed and look after the ape.

Monkeys en route to Mars with their robot overseers? There’s a whole raft of story ideas right there…

Monkey robot thought control!

JustinP @ 29-05-2008

robot-monkeyFully aware of the fact that its sounds like something pulled from the mind of an overcaffeinated Japanese TV executive, this week, scientists were revealed to “have trained monkeys to control a robotic arm using the power of their thoughts.”

The team … first trained the macaque monkeys to retrieve marshmallows — a favourite treat — by using a joystick to control the prosthetic arm. Once they had mastered this, the team inserted electrodes into the animals’ motor cortex and used brain signals … to control the arm’s movement.

During the trials, the animals’ limbs were restrained in plastic tubes so that they could not reach for the food themselves. After some errors, the animals learned to perform subtle movements using the robotic arm, which has a jointed shoulder, elbow and wrist, as well as a gripping hand.

But where the Guardian is distracted by the future implications for “controllable prosthetic limbs for patients with stroke, spinal cord injuries or neurodegenerative conditions”, the BBC report remains relatively grounded in the specifics of the actual lab experiments;

The monkeys were able to use their brains to continuously change the speed and direction of the arm and the gripper, suggesting that the monkeys had come to regard the robotic arm as a part of their own bodies.

The success rate of the experiment was 61%.

“The monkey learns by first observing the movement, which activates its brain cells as if it was doing it. It’s a lot like sports training, where trainers have athletes first imagine that they are performing the movements they desire.”

Of course, the only way you’re going to get the full monkey-mecha-wow! impact is by checking out the video footage.

[2nd story from BBC; image by d&e]