Friday, October 14, 2011

Virtual Tactile Sensation

A new article was published last week in Nature, written by none other than Dr. Joseph O'Doherty, a fellow grad student with me at Duke. O'Doherty's doctoral research was performed in the famed Nicolelis lab and focused on providing virtual vibrotactile sensation to a monkey performing a reaching task. Using implanted brain electrodes, series of stimuli were applied, intending to encode the feeling of different surface materials. The monkey was able to discriminate between different surface textures in order to receive juice rewards. The experiment had the monkey controlling the movements of a virtual "avatar" monkey, with the the tactile sensations experienced by the avatar being sent back to the real monkey's brain.

This is stunning work because it represents the first time that a primate has been able to interpret microstimulations in the brain as tactile textures. Other investigators have performed related tasks such as teaching a rat to move left or right depending on which of two different stimulus patterns were delivered. But O'Doherty's work moves the field to a whole new level.

The video below shows the monkey avatar virtually "feeling" his three targets to determine which is the one that leads to a juice reward.

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