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New Success For Brain-Controlled Prosthetic Arm 81

Posted by timothy
from the less-impressive-than-vice-versa dept.
An anonymous reader writes "A number of amputees are now using a prosthetic arm that moves intuitively, when they think about moving their missing limb. Todd Kuiken and colleagues at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago surgically rearrange the nerves that normally connect to the lost limb and embed them in muscles in the chest. The muscles are then connected to sensors that translate muscle movements into movement in a robotic arm. The researchers first reported the technique in a single patient in 2007, and have now tested it in several more. The patients could all successfully move the arm in space, mimic hand motions, and pick up a variety of objects, including a water glass, a delicate cracker, and a checker rolling across a table. (Three patients are shown using the arm in the related video.) The findings are reported today in Journal of the American Medical Association."
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New Success For Brain-Controlled Prosthetic Arm

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  • by grub (11606) <slashdot@grub.net> on Wednesday February 11, 2009 @05:19PM (#26819079) Homepage Journal

    Teen male amputees will tell their peers "Try using the left side of your brain, it feels like somebody else!"
    • Re: (Score:1, Offtopic)

      On that subject, I wanna bang both those one-armed chicks in the video.

    • by Cillian (1003268)
      I don't know. If it has the force to pickup a hammer, I wouldn't trust that thing near my goolies.
      • Re: (Score:1, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward
        I may be in a minority round here, but I have two natural arms and they can both pick up a hammer. I think you need to get a bit more exercise.
        • by Cillian (1003268)
          I like to think I have control of my arms. From the video, the control seems iffy at best.
          (Although, I'll second the +1 funny :-).)
    • Dude I was LMAO, but not everyone caught on,
      I just hope you get someone with points to mod you funny!!!

  • Not exactly news... (Score:5, Informative)

    by Thelasko (1196535) on Wednesday February 11, 2009 @05:24PM (#26819171) Journal
    I've been following Dr. Kuiken's technique for quite a while. Here's a video [google.com] of a speech he gave a year ago with his first successful candidate Jesse Sullivan. [wikipedia.org]

    Interesting stuff none the less.
    • There's even a Slashdot article [slashdot.org] from a year ago on this topic.
      • by thepotoo (829391)

        If you RTFS, you'll see that that article you link to was the pilot project with one person, and that this is a slightly larger project with several (TFA doesn't say how many) people.

        I'm actually a little surprised that this work wasn't done years ago; especially given what we know about synaptic plasticity.

        If there's a neurobiologist reading this, could you use this technique to wire one side of a person's body to the other, enabling a person who has had a stroke to regain movement? (I think wires would by

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by clone53421 (1310749)

          Strokes are caused by brain damage from oxygen deprivation, not by nerve damage. If the portion of your brain that's supposed to control your left hand is fried, the sort of thing they were doing in this experiment won't help you.

          • by thepotoo (829391)

            This procedure moves nerves from the arms into the chest. The areas of the brain that control (one side of) the chest are still functional in a stroke, at least enough to get some rudimentary movement. Based on what I know of synaptic plasticity, I think the brain might be able to rewire "chest" motor cortex neurons to be "arm" neurons, eventually restoring decent range of motion.

            My question is whether they can bypass the damaged brain ares by moving nerves (it seems to me that TFA suggests yes).

            • by Thelasko (1196535)

              My question is whether they can bypass the damaged brain ares by moving nerves (it seems to me that TFA suggests yes).

              What Dr. Kuiken's technique does is analogous to disconnecting a parallel cable from a broken printer and connecting it to a new one. Doing this won't help if the computer is broken.

              To do what you are suggesting requires taking the case of the computer (brain surgery), to do some rewiring.

              • Re:Dupe (Score:4, Informative)

                by Cillian (1003268) on Wednesday February 11, 2009 @07:05PM (#26820521) Homepage
                I think what he's saying is, the half of the motherboard with the parallel port is fried, but you can plug in a USB printer and the computer will figure out a driver on it's own. (The USB port being the chest muscles on the working side of the body/brain, and the parallel port being the dead side of the brain, and the printer being the still working fine muscles on teh dead side of the body.)
          • by ShakaUVM (157947)

            >>If the portion of your brain that's supposed to control your left hand is fried, the sort of thing they were doing in this experiment won't help you.

            A neat thing about the brain is its incredible ability to rewire itself in response to changes in usage. The section of your brain dedicated to sight, for example, is used to process sound in blind people. Even sighted people, when deprived of all light, begin remapping their brain in this fashion after about a week or so. When exposed to light again, t

          • by TheLink (130905)
            It will.

            The sort of thing they were doing in this experiment is to use a different part of the brain to control stuff.

            Like learning to drive a car, this is learning to drive your prosthetic hand with your chest muscles.

            You can use a mouse with either hand, and you can use it to control a gun/character that's not real in some game. If you have to, you could learn to use the mouse with your foot.

            So using some other part of your body to control a prosthetic hand isn't far fetched.
            • Like learning to drive a car, this is learning to drive your prosthetic hand with your chest muscles.

              No. It's not. This is re-wiring the nerve that used to control your arm, which you no longer have, so that it instead activates muscles in your chest. The muscle contractions in your chest then directly correlate to arm movements that you thought you performed, and the electronics in the prosthetic pick up those muscle contractions and translate them into the corresponding arm motion.

        • Re:Dupe (Score:4, Interesting)

          by Thelasko (1196535) on Wednesday February 11, 2009 @06:21PM (#26819943) Journal

          If you RTFS, you'll see that that article you link to was the pilot project with one person, and that this is a slightly larger project with several (TFA doesn't say how many) people.

          Yes, but no new breakthroughs have been made. The only thing that's been proven is that the original subject, Jesse Sullivan, was not an isolated case and the procedure is repeatable. Even taking that into consideration, Claudia Mitchell [washingtonpost.com] had this procedure done in almost three years ago.

          The only real news here is that the work is being submitted to the FDA.

          • by Thelasko (1196535)

            The only real news here is that the work is being submitted to the FDA.

            Correction: That should be, "The only real news here is that the work is being published by JAMA." I guess being submitted to the FDA was just wishful thinking on my part.

  • by jellomizer (103300) on Wednesday February 11, 2009 @05:27PM (#26819209)

    The question is would technology get to a point where our brains will interact better with machines then they do with our own bodies. Being that technology advances faster then evolution I could see it coming. I just hope they come with low power USB ports so I don't need a keyboard anymore.

    • by Lord Ender (156273) on Wednesday February 11, 2009 @05:37PM (#26819355) Homepage

      I just want one of these things that interfaces with my computer as a Bluetooth HID. Think of it: mousing without having to lift your hands from the keyboard! And you only have to sacrifice the use of some vestigial muscle.

      Really, if they can figure out how to key this thing off of that muscle that wiggles your ears, we could even maintain that classic bluetooth douchebag look by having something clipped on to our ears all the time.

    • by rennerik (1256370)

      I, for one, welcome our new cyborg overlords.

    • The brain tends to take tools and make them act like they're an extension of your body, ie when you turn the car, you don't think about the arm movement, you think about the car movement. If we get better interfaces between machines and the brain, I can't imagine that it wouldn't be as good as our own bodies, and I can easily see science finding a way to make it so that it becomes more "natural" to use tech than to use your own body.

      In many ways this has already happened for me. It's almost as natural to
      • that is the point we consciously think about the cars movement. In theory we should be able to parallel park with using as much brain power as sitting down

        • by TheLink (130905)
          You can be fairly sloppy when sitting down in most chairs/sofas - you won't usually cause kilobux of damage.

          When there are no other cars around - just the parking bays, I can parallel park with only a bit more brain power as sitting down.

          I suggest that you'd use as much brain power in parallel parking as you would use to sit between two highly electrified sheets of metal - with a gap of about 4 inches between you and the sheet on each side.

          To me that's a fairer comparison.

          If cars and parking bays were desig
  • by Anonymous Coward

    I have two bio arms, but I would be quite like having a third arm I could control as naturally as my other two. This would be especially useful when using emacs.

    • Emacs? Why not just go for the quote from THHGTG Radio Show:

      Trillian (to Zaphod): Please take your hand off me. And the other one. And the other one.
      Zaphod: I grew that arm just for you, baby....

    • Because your brain isn't natively programmed to control three arms. There aren't any nerves to carry instructions to a third arm, either.

      Of course, you'd have probably figured this out if you had RTFS, but I honestly don't expect that sort of mental effort from registered users, much less Anonymous Coward.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by MozeeToby (1163751)

        Your brain also isn't 'programmed' to move a pointer around a computer screen, but if you implant electrodes in the brain and try it you can teach your brain to do so.

        That was the big breakthrough with brain-computer interfaces, you don't need to find the exact neuron that controls each muscle because there isn't one. If you get the electrode in the general area the brain will do the rest. The human brain is a massively adaptable, feedback driven, self optimizing, neural network.

        • by fractoid (1076465)

          The human brain is a massively adaptable, feedback driven, self optimizing, neural network.

          Yeah, well MY brain is a neural net processor... a leahning computah!

      • by kalirion (728907)

        Of course, you'd have probably figured this out if you had RTFS, but I honestly don't expect that sort of mental effort from registered users, much less Anonymous Coward.

        All they need is some motivation. I bet a triple breasted Real Doll(tm) would do the trick.

  • All this brain interface stuff is a dead end direction for amputees. Put the focus on stem cell limb regeneration. The US Army is behind it because it will be cheaper than wheelchairs and veteran's hospitals. http://www.imminst.org/forum/index.php?showtopic=26506 [imminst.org]
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by PitaBred (632671)
      Sure. But until stem cell therapy gets past the ground stages, this is nice. Hell, who knows... they might even be able to adapt it so people could control more limbs than they're born with.

      Using your analogy, we shouldn't have done any development on steam engines since internal combustion engines would be so much better and just needed some more research.

      Second point, robotics engineers are not cellular biologists. You can't just "divert resources" like that.
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        Me, I'm just waiting in this mud hut until we have star travel so I can move to a nicer place on another planet.

      • We already do (Score:3, Insightful)

        by TheLink (130905)
        We already control more limbs than we're born with.

        Try using a mouse to control a pointer in a GUI.
        Next, use a mouse to control a character in an FPS game.
        Next, use a mouse to control little creatures in an RTS game.

        After enough practice, when you do all of that do you actually think of where you move your arm, hands and fingers?

        You don't. You just think of controlling some extension of yourself.

        Same for typing, using a screwdriver, etc.

        Same goes for driving car. If you drive a car, next time observe that y
        • Most people can't "flip" the "learnt mapping" to the other hand easily (which is what being ambidextrous is).

          I'd actually always figured that ambidexterity had more to do with having enough practice using both hands that you could control either one with a fair amount of precision. For instance, I'm naturally right-handed, but I (for whatever reason) learned to use scissors, knives, etc. with my left. As a result, I'm fairly dexterous with my left hand – to the point where, if I try to write left-handed, I can actually make it look fairly good (until my wrist/hand tires, which happens pretty quickly since I

      • by carvalhao (774969)
        Judging by how most people drive, I'd say we have enough problems with controlling ONLY FOUR limbs...
    • Re:Stem Cells (Score:4, Insightful)

      by clone53421 (1310749) on Wednesday February 11, 2009 @05:49PM (#26819519) Journal

      Dead end? Having a prosthetic limb which can be controlled as if it was your own lost limb certainly doesn't seem like a "dead end". Tech that we have now is always superior to tech that we might probably get sometime in the future — right up until such a time as we have the newer, better tech. This experiment might just be proof-of-concept, but it looks relatively close to being user-ready (as opposed to limb regeneration, which holds promise but who knows when we'll actually be able to do it).

      By that reasoning, I'd refuse to upgrade from dial-up until they ran a fibre link to my home.

      • by JuzzFunky (796384)
        I wonder how long it will be until the prosthetic hand can outperform a biological hand in terms of speed [www.cbc.ca] and strength. Every time I see a massive excavator I think of how cool it would be to join 5 of them together as fingers in a massive hand!
    • On the plus side, brain interfaces have all sorts of fun transhumanist applications to look forward to, and if it helps some cripples function in the meantime, all the better.
    • This has application beyond that of amputees. Brain-technology interfaces could be used with many things even for people who are completely healthy. Imagine being able to control a car, jackhammer, or computer without physical movements. Stem cells won't provide that functionality any time in the near future.
    • Why? Your native limbs have a fixed performance range and are not really efficient. Wouldn't you like to be able to run a Marathon without breaking a sweat? Or be able to use emacs on a qwerty keyboard all day without suffering carpal tunnel syndrome? Have no problem of leaving oily fingerprints on your iPhone? Have no problem carrying your 17" DTR notebook around with you wherever you go?
    • Stem Cell regeneration is a dead end. Instead, what we need to do is find the genetic differences in the MRL strain of mice, and use gene therapy.

  • by NotSoHeavyD3 (1400425) on Wednesday February 11, 2009 @05:38PM (#26819387)
    Now guys, just be careful not to mention that eventually this brain controlled arm could be used to masturbate or wield a gun since that would get the pubs and dems to cut funding respectively.:-)
    • by LordKaT (619540)

      They still have a problem with determining how much force to use when picking up objects. I'd hate to have that same problem when jerking off.

      Of course, I'd only have that problem if I has a prosthetic dick too.

      • Re: (Score:1, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Of course, I'd only have that problem if I has a prosthetic dick too.

        I have a prosthetic dick you insensitive clod!

      • I'd hate to have that same problem when jerking off.

        You might want to rephrase that....

    • Or better yet, the military can invest in it so that soldiers can finally hold onto their rifles and their "guns" at the same time.

    • by geekoid (135745)

      Correction:
      "...could be used to masturbate and wield a gun ..."

    • by JuzzFunky (796384)
      As long as you don't to both at the same time then it will be fine.
  • They've had this in rough form for a while now. But recent advancements have resulted in a 65% reduction in incidents of the prosthetic arm attempting to strangle the user to death.

  • Bad News for Viagra Manufacturer Pfizer
  • Anonymous Coward (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Question; I'm a little vague as to why the nerves have to be moved to healthy muscle tissue? Is it because there are currently no sensors that can read impulses directly from the nerves themselves, and require muscle contraction to 'amplify' the signal?

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Zerth (26112)

      Basically, yes. Sensing muscle activity is way easier/less noisy than picking up nerve impulses and the muscle action provides feedback to the nerves, which encourages them not to atrophy.

      • I'm a little disappointed by that aspect though (see comment below). It seems like a direct nerve link is more elegant, and more likely to restore sensation. Hopefully the research will get to that phase at some point. Human hand transplants seem to prove that hooking up nerves to after-market hardware is possible.
        • by Zerth (26112)

          The problem with direct nerve stimulation, whether by electrode or induction, is that it tends to kill the nerves.

          Perhaps if they could invent a chemical nerve stimulator, it might work out better.

  • 1. They have the luxury of editing to find the best looking trials. I'm sure these don't work as well as they seem. But as a person with a background in psychology, I suspect that after a few hundred hours of using them, these people would have excellent control over them.

    2. Picking up the cracker... How do wash these fingers? They're going to need food gloves for them.

    3. Is there a nice break between the arm and the pickups on the body? Is there a radio link between that stub and the arm? There needs

  • Thats Ok, but I think this is better http://www.popularmechanics.com/technology/industry/4224764.html?series=37 [popularmechanics.com] of course I'm not exactly unbiased.
  • I see that this project still involves the kludge of having sensors reading muscle contractions, rather than a direct interface between the leftover nerves and a nerve-sensor of some kind. A direct connection makes more sense if you can make it work, partly because it allows for sensation as well as motion.

    Is there more research going on in that direction? It seemed as though DARPA's "Proto" arm series was moving towards a direct nerve interface.

    Meanwhile, human hand transplants [wikipedia.org] have had some success at

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