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Pioneering VR Technology Enables Mind-Controlled Movement

A recent experiment using rats and virtual reality to give results sounds like it came straight out of science fiction.

In this experiment, the rats can move in the realm of virtual reality by just using their thoughts. Artificial intelligence was used to analyse the brain activity of the rats. This experiment showed how the rats could solve challenging tasks in VR by using their thoughts to get rewards. This experiment opens a new avenue for scientists to further research how brain activities can be utilised in the real world to do tasks.

How the experiment was designed

The analysis and recording of electrical activities happening in the rats’ hippocampus were conducted using a sophisticated brain-machine interface by researchers for this experiment. The hippocampus regulates spatial memory and navigation in the brain. Exclusive electrical patterns based on an animal’s position are created by specialised neurons called place cells located in this area.

After having electrodes fitted to measure their brain activity, the rats underwent training using a unique spherical treadmill setup. A virtual world presented on a screen showed how the rats ran and moved while using the treadmill. The virtual landscape consisted of numerous towering columns and encompassed an area of one square metre. When rats reached any of these lofty posts, they were acknowledged and rewarded accordingly. The researchers instructed artificial intelligence to analyse the brain activity of the rats and make the necessary movements in the virtual world.

The determination of rats’ location in a VR setting from their brain activity was done flawlessly by an AI trained by the researchers. Subsequently, the treadmill and VR experience were separated. The rat was prevented by physical movement from reaching its goal. With artificial intelligence, the neural activity of rats is translated into digital signals after being recorded. These digital signals were then projected into a virtual reality environment. As a result of using an AI system for guidance, rats managed to navigate towards their objective. Three out of four rats undergoing this experiment were successful. The researchers elevated their experimentation and put their theories to the test with rats. It was amazing that the rats could manipulate virtual objects solely with their thoughts. Completing their tasks with ease, three out of the four rats achieved an impressive outcome.

The medical implications of this experiment on humans

Based on the findings of this experiment, it can be inferred that rats possess the ability to retain location memory. This is evident from the distinct changes observed in their brain activity when imagining revisiting certain places. Additionally, advancements in artificial intelligence have enabled technology to read and respond to these brain signals accurately.

Daniel Bendor, a researcher from University College London, hailed the recent experiment as ground-breaking for its insights into spatial memory and animal cognition. He also highlighted its potential applications for paralysed patients. He said that by adapting the technology to allow patients to control their machines with their thoughts, this innovation could provide a remarkable breakthrough for those who have lost their mobility. Nevertheless, Bendor cautioned that this process would require extensive customisation of the AI to accommodate the patient’s unique environment and needs.

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