During an experimental study at the University of Pittsburgh a paralyzed man managed to touch his partner’s hand using a new mind-controlled robotic arm.
“It wasn’t my arm but it was my brain, my thoughts. I was moving something,” said Tim Hemmes of Pennsylvania. “I don’t have one single word to give you what I felt at that moment. That word doesn’t exist.”
It was the first time that the 30-year-old man managed to reach out to someone after a motorcycle accident left him a quadriplegic seven years ago.
Researchers tested to see whether an experimental chip placed in Hammes’s brain for a month could allow him move a three-dimensional arm.
Surprisingly enough, the young man’s mind pushed the robotic arm forward to hesitantly tap palms with a scientist just a day before the electrodes were supposed to be removed.
These emotional robotic touches have inspired researchers for soon-to-start yearlong experiments on more volunteers.
The system includes a tiny chip which is implanted in the brain sending brain signals out to electrodes connected to a computer which processes the commands to move the prosthetic arm.
Hemmes had practiced six hours a day, six days a week for nearly a month to be able to move the arm by his thoughts.
The proceeding has brought new hopes for paralyzed people or those who have lost a limb to one day become more independent by using the technology in their daily life.
“I think the potential here is incredible,” said Dr. Michael Boninger, director of UPMC’s Rehabilitation Institute and a principal investigator in the project. “This is a breakthrough for us.”
Although the project is still years away from commercial use, numerous research teams are investigating different other methods to help the paralyzed with similar technologies.
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