Robotic arm give paralyzed new lease on life
Brain implants afford users the sense of touch
Tim Hemmes, a quadriplegic since a motorcycle accident seven years, was
given the opportunity to use a robotic arm in a laboratory experiment.
Hemmes got to give a "high five" and rub his girlfriend's hand. Hemmes
was not only to perform these with the hand - he was allowed to feel the
sensation due to implants in his brain. "It wasn't my arm but it was my
brain, my thoughts. I was moving something," Hemmes says. "I don't have
one single word to give you what I felt at that moment. That word
'It wasn't my arm but it was my brain, my thoughts. I was moving something,' paralytic Tim Hemmes says. 'I don't have one single word to give you what I felt at that moment. That word doesn't exist.'
The goal is a futuristic-like melding of mind and machine, the most humanlike bionic arm to date. The fingers bend like real ones with tiny chips implanted in the brain. Electrodes tap into electrical signals from brain cells that command movement. Bypassing a broken spinal cord, they relay those signals to the robotic third arm.
Monkeys learned to feed themselves marshmallows by thinking a robot arm into motion. At Duke University, monkeys used their thoughts to move virtual arms on a computer and got feedback that let them distinguish the texture of what they "touched."
BrainGate, the name of a research team, a few paralyzed people outfitted with brain electrodes have used their minds to work computers, even make simple movements with prosthetic arms.
"We really are at a tipping point now with this technology," Michael McLoughlin of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory says. His team developed the human-like arm in a $100 million project for DARPA, the Pentagon's research agency.
"Imagine all the joints that are in your hand. There's 20 motions around all those joints," Pittsburgh neurobiologist Andrew Schwartz says. "It's not just reaching out and crudely grasping something. We want them to be able to use the fingers we've worked so hard on."
A chip implanted in the 30-year-old Hemmes brain, which for safety reasons the Food and Drug Administration let stay for just a month, could allow for three-dimensional arm movement.
Hemmes surprised researchers the day before the electrodes were removed. The robotic arm whirred as Hemmes' mind pushed it forward to hesitantly tap palms with a scientist. The room fell silent as Hemmes' girlfriend approached. Hemmes painstakingly raised the black metal hand again and slowly rubbed its palm against hers a few times.
"It was awesome," the decidedly unscientific description from the normally reserved Dr. Michael Boninger, rehabilitation chief at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center says. "To interact with a human that way. ... This is the beginning."
© 2011, Catholic Online. Distributed by NEWS CONSORTIUM.
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Pope Benedict XVI's Prayer Intentions for January 2013
General Intention: The Faith of Christians. That in this Year of Faith Christians may deepen their knowledge of the mystery of Christ and witness joyfully to the gift of faith in him.
Missionary Intention: Middle Eastern Christians. That the Christian communities of the Middle East, often discriminated against, may receive from the Holy Spirit the strength of fidelity and perseverance.
Keywords: Bionics, robot arm, paralysis
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