Tetraplegics Successfully Control Robot Arm with MindCategory: Science & Technology
Posted: May 17, 2012 10:30AM
Countless hours have been put into developing systems that return to people lost abilities. Losing limbs or paralysis can completely change a person's life, depending on the severity of the injury. Recently however one woman, who lost the control of her arms, legs, and even the ability to talk 15 years ago, was able to sip a cup of coffee on her own.
She and the other subject in the experiment suffered brainstem strokes, which took away all of that control many of us take for granted. Through the BrainGate2 collaboration of the Department of Veterans Affairs, Brown University, Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School, and the German Aerospace Center, both reclaimed some of what they lost. This was accomplished by using a small neural implant, which detects brain activity in the motor cortex, and a computer that translates brain signals into instructions for the tested robot arms. Two different arms were used in this experiment. One was made by the German Aerospace Center and the other by DEKA Research and Development Corp.
Previous efforts with BrainGate were to give control of a computer cursor to patients, so this experiment represents the first time full 3D motion was created by the subjects. Also of note is that the implant in the woman's brain was installed about five years ago, which means this experiments proves the longevity of the technology. Perhaps most importantly though was that even after 15 years of being unable to control one's limbs, the brain still knows how to issue those commands. The two subjects controlled the robot arms by thinking about moving their own, and not some more abstract action they can still do today.