Tags: mind | moves | robotic | arm

Robotic Arms ‘Moved’ by the Mind

Friday, 18 May 2012 12:51 PM


In a medical-science breakthrough that sounds like something out of Star Wars, scientists are reporting success using a new technology that allows paralyzed people to use robotic arms to reach and grasp objects solely by using their thoughts.
Researchers said the achievement, reported in the journal Nature, opens the door to the use of high-tech robotic prosthetics by military veterans and other people who have lost the use of their arms to injury or illness.
The initiative – dubbed “BrainGate2” – is a collaborative venture involving researchers from the Department of Veterans Affairs, Brown University, Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School and the German Aerospace Center (DLR).
"Our goal in this research is to develop technology that will restore independence and mobility for people with paralysis or limb loss," said lead investigator Dr. Leigh Hochberg, a neuroengineer. "We have much more work to do, but the encouraging progress of this research is demonstrated not only in the reach-and-grasp data, but even more so in [one patient’s] smile when she served herself coffee of her own volition for the first time in almost 15 years."
Hochberg said the clinical trial is the first reported in a peer-reviewed journal on the successful use of brain signals to control a robotic arm to complete a task usually performed by their arm.
For the trial, researchers tested the robotic technology on two patients – identified only as “S3,” a 58-year-old woman, and “T2,” a 66-year-old man. Both had been paralyzed by stroke years earlier, leaving them without control of their limbs.
In the research, the pair used their thoughts to directly control two different robotic arms, one developed by the DLR Institute of Robotics and Mechatronics and the other by DEKA Research and Development Corp., to reach and grasp objects.
The BrainGate system was initially developed at Brown University, using a baby aspirin-sized device with 96 tiny electrodes implanted in the part of the patients’ brains that is involved in voluntary movement. The electrodes are designed to mimic and interpret brain cell activity that directs the body to move. An external computer translates those signals and powers the operation of the DLR and DEKA robot arms.
In the Nature article, researchers described how the woman in the study, who had been paralyzed and unable to speak for 15 years, was able to move a robotic arm using her thoughts to lift a bottle of coffee to her mouth and take a drink through a straw.
In 158 trials over four days, researchers found “S3” was able to touch the target with the DLR robotic arm in nearly half the tests nearly 70 percent of the time with the DEKA arm and hand. In 45 trials using the DEKA arm, T2 touched the target more than 95 percent of the time.
Partial funding for this work comes from the VA. "VA is honored to have played a role in this exciting and promising area of research," said VA Secretary Eric Shinseki. "Today's announcement represents a great step forward toward improving the quality of life for Veterans and others who have either lost limbs or are paralyzed."


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New technology allows paralyzed people to power robotic arms using only their thoughts.
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2012-51-18
Friday, 18 May 2012 12:51 PM
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