A robotic prosthetic arm controlled by the mind is closer to becoming a reality after researchers at University of Pittsburgh Medical Center managed to test such an arm in a 52-year old woman diagnosed with a degenerative brain disorder that has left her paralyzed from the neck down.
Jan Scheuermann has been fitted with two microelectrode device implants in her left motor cortex, a region of the brain identified with initiating movement. The electrodes have been connected to a robotic hand with the help of a computer that runs a complex algorithm which translates the signals and mimics the way a brain controls the healthy limbs.
Scheuermann practiced with the device for a number of weeks before she was able to clearly manipulate the limb so that she could pick up an object, manipulate it or place them in a target position.
Michael Boninger, who worked on the study, said that the major challenge faced by the researchers was developing the complex algorithm that could control the limb. "The main advantage of the prosthetic is that it looks like a human arm, and has much of the same capability as a human arm in terms of flexibility of movement at multiple joints, including in the hand", Boninger added.