A thought-powered robotic arm could put independence within reach for disabled patients, researchers report. In a new study, two people with almost-complete body paralysis were able to reach and grasp small foam balls and a thermos of coffee with a robotic arm using only their brain signals to direct the motion. The result, a first for human subjects, brings scientists a step closer to restoring mobility for people with spinal cord injuries, lost limbs, and other conditions that limit movement.
Mind-melding between animals and machines isn't new; researchers have been attempting it since the 1970s. Past studies in brain-machine interfaces have enabled monkeys to control robotic arms and paralyzed people to control cursors on a screen. But researchers didn't know if humans could control robotic arms to perform finer, more complex tasks, such as maneuvering in three dimensions and grasping a small object without moving it or knocking it over.
Theelectrode array in the picture is called a BrainGate, which reads brain waves and sends them to a computer that translates them into commands. The commands have enabled two paralyzed patients to control a robotic arm with their thoughts.