Brain-controlled bionic arm edges humanity closer to android age
When I first watched the Six Million Dollar Man, I was extremely amazed at how bionic enhancements introduced to the human body were able to augment one’s performance to an incredible degree. Well, seeing prosthetic limbs in science fiction movies made it all the more believable, but real world medical technology continued to play catch up to the realm of fantasy. This time around, perhaps modern day technology and advancements made in the field of robotics could bridge the gap somewhat, as evident by this 58 year-old woman who had lost the use of her limbs being able to drink a steaming hot mug of coffee by herself, not with any other arm, but a robotic arm that is controlled by her thoughts, courtesy of a brain computer interface (BCI). A separate study has also seen another woman who is afflicted with longstanding quadriplegia, and yet with the help of a mind-controlled robot arm, she was able to feed herself a chocolate bar.
I guess this has gotten researchers all up in a buzz, as they claim that such a level of agility and control is fast approaching that of a human limb. Which is a good thing, of course, and we do look forward to future developments where a robotic limb can be fused as a replacement appendage to the human body, something that amputees would definitely find exciting. Scenes of I, Robot start to flood the mind again after saying that.
The folks over at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) were the ones behind this particular system which was specially tested by Jan Scheuermann. A mother of two, she was diagnosed with spinocerebellar degeneration 14 years ago, leaving her paralyzed from the neck down. When a couple of electrode grids with 96 tiny contact points were placed in the regions of Schneuermann’s motor cortex which controlled right arm and hand movements, they picked up relevant signals from individual neurons, which were then translated to movement of the robotic limb. The road ahead is still a long one, but we’re getting there.