Paralyzed Patients Thought-Control a Robotic Arm
October 11, 2011 2 Comments
A few days ago I wrote about thought-controlled prosthetic limbs, and how a new experiment showed for the first time that monkeys could both control a virtual limb and receive sensory feedback from it. The Associated Press, via Medical Xpress, brings us news of a new robotic arm made by DARPA capable of relatively complex movement as well as of sensing touch through sensors on its fingertips.
The article tells a story of a paralyzed patient using this arm – through chips implanted into his brain – that won’t quite be the same in summary, so you should check it out yourself if you can. The summary is basically that some paralyzed people are part of a project known as BrainGate, among other presumably similar projects, where they’re learning to use electrodes implanted into their brains to control robotic third arms. They haven’t yet tried transmitting the arm’s sensory information back to the user, but that’s coming up soon, and it will be awesome.
This all also means I have to take back what I assumed in the monkey post; I didn’t think implanting electrodes into people’s brains (as opposed to recording electrical activity from their scalps) would be a desirable course of action, but it looks like it’s feasible after all. I’m not sure if the electrodes/chips they used in this case had wires coming out or transmitted data wirelessly; I would hope the latter, but even if not, that’s probably not a major hurdle to overcome in the future compared to the rest of it. I also didn’t realize that a touch-sensitive robotic arm was already being used, although it looks like it only has sensors in its fingertips.
This is fantastic stuff, but it’s also going to raise its own issues in the future, especially if prosthetic limbs eventually function better than regular limbs and become desirable. That’s not a major concern compared to ending paralysis and helping amputees though, so again, this will be awesome.