pittsburgh man uses mind powered robot to move after brain injury

Many who have suffered a debilitating brain or spinal cord injury have had to come to terms with the fact that their lives have changed forever. Paralysis, limited mobility, frequent physical therapy and retraining the brain can all be daunting. After all, most people think of brain injuries and paralysis as things that are permanent.

Thankfully, researchers have not subscribed to that notion, and recent advancements may offer new hope to victims of brain and spinal cord injury.

Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh and Duke University developed robotics that melds mind and machine. The researchers used cutting-edge Star Trek-like technology to create the “most humanlike bionic arm to date,” and a quadriplegic from Pittsburgh was one of the first people to test the invention.

With the bionic arm, the quadriplegic, Tim, was able to give high-fives and rub his girlfriend’s hand. “It wasn’t my arm but it was my brain, my thoughts. I was moving something.” Tim has been paralyzed for seven years, and he said there are no words to describe the emotion he felt at being able to physically reach out to someone.

If scientists are able to continue moving forward with the development of thought-controlled prosthetics, it would be a large step toward independence for paralyzed individuals.

At this point, the technology is still years away from commercial use. However, researchers have made promising advancements. Monkeys in Pittsburgh learned to feed themselves marshmallows with thought-controlled robot arms. Another team of monkeys learned to use their thoughts to move virtual arms on computer screens. They then received feedback that enabled them to identify the texture of what they “touched” on the screens.

Read our next post to learn more about the thought-controlled robotic arms and the opportunities that could be created for individuals who have suffered brain injuries.

Source: Bloomberg BusinessWeek, “Paralyzed man uses mind-powered robot arm to touch,” Lauran Neergaard, Oct. 10, 2011

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