Cathy Hutchinson hasn’t been able to drink anything without the help of her caregiver in the 15 years since she had a stroke. Now, thanks to new technology detailed today in Nature, she can take a sip of coffee simply by thinking about it.
In 2005, Hutchinson let scientists implant a small chip on her motor cortex. After years of research, it finally paid off; the above footage was filmed last year and was released today with the study.
The implications, of course, are major. Robotic prosthetics that can be controlled by the mind could completely revolutionize how people who are paralyzed interact with their environment.
What makes this study special is how complex the action is. The technology that came before it — labeled BrainGate by the researchers at Brown University — had been used to move a cursor around a screen and to allow a monkey to grasp different objects.
Now, with the help of the DARPA-funded DEKA Arm System, BrainGate2 helped someone actually move a three-dimensional object — equipped with several joints, no less — around in space with enough accuracy to gently take a sip of liquid from it. Hutchinson successfully drank from her cup in four out of the six trials.
There’s still a long way to go before people can start walking around in robot bodies. Translating neural signals into digital commands isn’t an easy task — especially if you want to go beyond manipulating a stationary arm.
Before the team goes any farther, the main concern is testing whether or not the procedure is safe. According to Nature, seven people have received the implant and not one of them has experienced adverse side effects.
What’s the end goal? Researchers eventually want to develop wireless systems that don’t require surgery, get rid of the robots altogether, and help paralyzed people use the technology to move their own limbs again.
[via Popular Science]