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Monkey brains to control homes of the future

Researchers are trying to get brains to merge with computers

Researchers are copying the brain activity of monkeys to create tomorrow's smart homes, where far into the future we will perhaps control everything from light and heat to the coffee machine using only the power of thought.

Think about a cup of coffee and the coffee machine starts brewing. Researchers at the University of Southern Denmark are copying the thought patterns of monkeys in order to develop intelligent systems that could give the power of thought a whole new meaning. They are attempting to merge monkeys' brains with computers.

 - Our far-into-the-future vision is that a severely handicapped person need only to think about drinking a cup of coffee, and an intelligent system carries out the whole complex of necessary actions, says Associate Professor Poramate Manoonpong from SDU Embodied Systems for Robotics and Learning and continues.

 - The applications of such a technology are virtually limitless. In every situation where we would normally interact with our computers and robot through speech, touch interfaces, keyboards and mousses, we could instead just think of what we would like to have done or do, and the system would figure it out without us having to tell explicitly.

 Poramate Manoonpong works in a field where brains and robots merge and become intelligent systems. He and his colleague, Assistant Professor Jørgen Christian Larsen, are part of the European research project Plan4Act: From Monkey Brain to Smart House Control, which has received 31.5 million DKK.

 Robot researchers look closely into brain research

Robot researchers are closely following the latest developments in brain research to find out how they can best transfer the brain's fast and complex signals to robots or intelligent systems. And the latest news is that it is the brain activity that happens before an action which is most interesting.

 - Before we make an action, the brain plans or simulates the action, and the action itself is undertaken further down the line by reflex. The aim of our research is to understand the prior brain activity and use that knowledge to control and improve units in the future's smart homes, explains Poramate Manoonpong and continues:

 - Neurological studies have recently shown that mental simulation in animals is more widespread than we thought. Existing brain-machine interfaces do not take into account the brain activity that happens in that phase.

Electrodes fitted to monkey

At the German Primate Center in Goettingen, researchers have fitted electrodes to a monkey, which can transfer the monkey's brain activity to a computer. The monkey is trained to undertake different actions and receives a treat when it does so correctly.

 Poramate Manoonpong´s and Jørgen Christian Larsen´s task in the international research project is to develop an intelligent embedded control system that translates the information from the monkey’s brain into computer language for smart house control.

 - In the research project we are five partners, and we have divided the tasks between the partners, so when researchers in Germany have recorded and analyzed the brain's activity, they send it to us, and then we have to convert the information into proper commands through our intelligent control system for controlling devices in a smart house in Spain, says Poramate Manoonpong.

Facts: The research project Plan4Act: From Monkey Brain to Smart House Control consists of: University of Goettingen and German Primate Center from Germany, University of Southern Denmark from Denmark, and Technical University of Madrid and TSB Company from Spain.

Editing was completed: 17.11.2016