Robotic Arm Breakthrough Harnesses The Power Of Thought

The project, funded in part by DARPA, allowed a tetraplegic woman to grasp and move objects around with the arm after she had two sensors implanted in her brain.

A tetraplegic woman has successfully operated a robotic arm using her own brain power.

Within two days of having a pair of sensors implanted in the motor cortex of her brain, reports The Lancet, 53-year-old Jan Scheuermann was able to move and grasp a number of objects using just her thoughts to control the arm.

The breakthrough was made possibe by Professor Andrew B. Schwartz of the University of Pittsburgh's Neurobiology department, with help and funding from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the Department of Veterans Affairs, the National Institutes of Health, and the UPMC Rehabilitation Institute.

The sensors, which measure 4 millimeters square, have 100 tiny needles on them to pick up the electrical activity from around 200 individual brain cells. These electrical pulses are then translated into commands to move the arm, described as "highly intuitive and probably responsible for the unprecedented performance of the brain-machine interface." Although the study was lab-based, researchers are trying to work out how to fix the arm to Ms Scheuerman's wheelchair in order for her to use it everyday.

[Image via John Salmon]

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