Using robotic arm, woman with quadriplegia feeds herself

With mind-controlled limbs, people who have lost the use of limbs now have more hope of independence.
Written by Tyler Falk, Contributor

When you've lost the ability to move all of your limbs performing tasks like waving your hand, clinching your fist, or feeding yourself are lost. But now there's more hope for increased independence for people with quadriplegia.

In an amazing feat, Jan Scheuermann, a woman with quadriplegia, lived out a dream. With a mind-controlled robotic arm, Scheuermann fed herself chocolate for the first time in nine years. And researcher at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and UPMC have demonstrated what they say is the first time that a person with longstanding quadriplegia has used a mind-controlled arm to perform "seven dimensions" of complex and natural arm tasks, such as gripping objects and rotating and flexing the wrist.

“This is a spectacular leap toward greater function and independence for people who are unable to move their own arms,” said senior investigator Andrew Schwartz at the Pittsburgh School of Medicine, in a statement. “This technology, which interprets brain signals to guide a robot arm, has enormous potential that we are continuing to explore. Our study has shown us that it is technically feasible to restore ability; the participants have told us that BCI gives them hope for the future.”

The researchers published a study in The Lancet documenting the brain-computer interface technology used to give Scheuermann the ability to feed herself. In order to use the brain to control the robotic arm, researchers placed two quarter-inch square electrode grids with 96 tiny contact points each into the portion of the brain that controls the movement of the right arm and hand. The electrode grids penetrate into the brain's surface one-sixteenth of an inch. Researchers then determine firing patterns of neurons that are associated with imagined limb movements. The robotic arm uses those firing patterns to move when the patient thinks about performing a task.

“We are learning so much about how the brain controls motor activity, thanks to the hard work and dedication of our trial participants," said senior investigator Michael Boninger and director of UMPC's Rehabilitation Institute, in a statement. "Perhaps in five to 10 years, we will have a device that can be used in the day-to-day lives of people who are not able to use their own arms.”

Photo: UPMC

[via Science Daily]

Related on SmartPlanet:

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

Editorial standards