Robot Guided by Thoughts-Human Ones

Back to the wild, primates, you are now out of a job. A successful experiment has been conducted using the human brain and willing volunteers.

Being able to drink a cup of coffee without assistance has been accomplished just by thinking about it by a woman who lost the use of her limbs after a devastating stroke nearly 15 years ago.

The 58-year-old used a brain implant to control the robot and bring a flask of the coffee to her lips, the first time she had picked up anything since she was paralyzed and left unable to speak by a catastrophic brain stem stroke.

Doctors hailed the feat as the first demonstration of an implant that directly controls a reaching and gripping robotic arm by sensing and decoding the patient’s brain signals.

The work is part of a US clinical trial of an experimental implant called BrainGate that doctors see as a first step towards devices that can bypass damage to the nervous system and allow paralyzed people to regain control of their limbs or amputees to move prosthetics.

The BrainGate device plugs directly into the brain, but protrudes through the skull where it is connected to a computer by a cable. More advanced devices are planned that can operate wirelessly and be implanted out of sight, beneath the skin.

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One concern with brain implants is that they steadily lose their ability to sense neural signals as scar tissue forms around the ultrafine electrodes. An encouraging sign from the latest trial is that doctors could still record useful signals from the woman’s brain five years after her implant was fitted.


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