Mind-controlled Robot Arms Show Promise

By  //  May 27, 2012

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Medical Breakthrough

(Video by Nature Video)

EDITOR’S NOTE: A research team led by Leigh Hochberg, MD, PhD, of Brown University developed an electrode device that was implanted into the motor cortex of the brain of two stroke victims with quadriplegia. Using an investigational neural interface system called BrainGate, the quadriplegics were able to direct robotic arms to touch and grab foam balls, and one of the patients was able to grab a bottle of coffee and drink through a straw.

According to these preliminary results reported in the May 17 issue of Nature, controlling robotic limbs with neural impulses appears possible for patients with no functional control of their arms after a brainstem stroke, and holds promise for the many people suffering from paralyzing spinal cord injuries or strokes.

Two people who are unable to move their limbs have been able to guide a robot arm to reach and grasp objects using only their brain activity, a paper in Nature reports today.

Dr. Leigh Hochberg

The study participants — known as Cathy and Bob — had had strokes that damaged their brain stems and left them with tetraplegia and unable to speak. Neurosurgeons implanted tiny recording devices containing almost 100 hair-thin electrodes in the motor cortex of their brains, to record the neuronal signals associated with intention to move.

In a trial filmed in April last year and presented with the paper, Cathy, who had her stroke 15 years ago and received the implants in 2005, used her thoughts to steer a robot arm to grasp a bottle of coffee and lift it to her lips. She drank and smiled.

CLICK HERE to read the complete story on Nature.com.