According to Reuters, a group of researchers have developed a prosthetic arm that is controlled by the users thoughts. This new prosthetic arm, with its level of agility, has come closer than ever to a normal human limb.
Jan Scheuermann, a 52-year-old woman, is paralyzed from the neck down due to a degenerative brain disorder that she was diagnosed with 13 years ago. However, even though she is paralyzed, Scheuermann was still able operate the robotic arm with a level of control unique to this type of prosthetic.
Experts are calling it a remarkable step forward for prosthetics that are directly controlled by the brain.
How did the researchers develop the mind-controlled robotic arm?
According to NewsDaily, a study published in the Lancet shows that a research team from the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center implanted two microelectrode devices into Scheuermann’s left motor cortex. The left motor cortex is the part of the brain that initiates movement.
The medics then used a real-time brain scanning technique called functional magnetic resonance imaging. They used this brain scanning technique to identify the exact part of the brain that lit up after being asked to think about moving her paralyzed arms.
Electrodes then transmitted the signals into the robotic hand via a computer. The computer was running a complex algorithm that translated the brains signals allowing the prosthetic arm to move like a normal, healthy limb.
Michael Boninger, one of the workers on the study, told Reuters:
“These electrodes are remarkable devices in that they are very small. You can’t buy them in Radio Shack.”
Even though the electrodes were extremely advanced, according to Boninger, the way the algorithm operated was the true scientific advance.
One of the biggest challenges in mind-controlled prosthetics has been obtaining the ability to accurately translate brain signals.
“There is no limit now to decoding human motion. It gets more complex when you work on parts like the hand, but I think that, once you can tap into desired motion in the brain, then how that motion is effected has a wide range of possibilities.”
The researchers do plan to incorporate wireless technology. This will eliminate the need for a wired connection between the patient’s head and the prosthesis.