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Medicine Science

Human Tests of Mind-Controlled Artificial Arm To Begin 119

Posted by kdawson
from the do-what-i-mean dept.
kkleiner writes "The world's first human testing of a mind-controlled artificial limb is ready to begin. A joint project between the Pentagon and Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, the Modular Prosthetic Limb will be fully controlled by sensors implanted in the brain, and will even restore the sense of touch by sending electrical impulses from the limb back to the sensory cortex. Last week APL announced it had been awarded a $34.5M contract with DARPA, which will allow researchers to test the neural prosthetic in five individuals over the next two years."
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Human Tests of Mind-Controlled Artificial Arm To Begin

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  • AWESOME! (Score:4, Interesting)

    by the_macman (874383) on Tuesday August 03, 2010 @11:07PM (#33133744)

    Excellent! First article I see after watching this [steampowered.com]. 2027 is only 17 years away!!! :D

  • by stripathy (1870498) on Wednesday August 04, 2010 @12:04AM (#33134034)
    This technology is clearly very cool, but there's two major hurdles to overcome before everyone's running around with one of these.

    1. Controlling the device. Currently scientists/doctors control these brain computer interfaces (BCIs) by implanting electrodes into the patient's brain and finding neurons which code for particular movements (arm up or ring finger down). As the output device gets more complicated, like the arm here, doctors need to find more and more neurons to represent each degree of freedom of the output device.

    2. Quality of neural recordings degrade with time. The current shelf life of the electrode arrays used in these experiments is ~1-2 years because after implantation, the brain's immune system rejects the device and neurons which code useful information die or move elsewhere. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chronic_electrode_implants
  • by CrazyJim1 (809850) on Wednesday August 04, 2010 @12:10AM (#33134072) Journal
    I love this stuff because people who lost limbs or are paralyzed can become fully functional if it comes to pass! This sort of thing inspires great hope. Still I think about strange mad scientist applications...

    If an electrical connection can control an arm, how much longer until you can control a whole body?

    Since its an electrical connection, it could also be a wireless connection so you could control things at a distance.

    If you had a computer, it could control the body too.

    If someone goes brain dead or a coma, a computer could use that body like a robot with the right wiring and WIFI.

    Or what might happen is that it doesn't use people... The setup may use an animal instead.

    Who wants a monkey butler with the brain of a computer? How about a spy cat?

    I don't expect those things to actually happen because people have morality, but they could be possibilities. I think its more likely that robot bodies will be built by people, but this technology makes you wonder what strange things are possible.
  • by dgatwood (11270) on Wednesday August 04, 2010 @12:34AM (#33134192) Journal

    I am not a neurosurgeon, but it seems to me that implanting probes in the motor cortex is probably not the best solution anyway. You already presumably have peripheral motor nerves coming off the spine and across your back to where the arm used to be (ignoring people who can't use limbs due to spinal damage for the moment). And peripheral motor nerves, unlike spinal nerves, don't suddenly stop controlling your arm and start controlling your leg or start controlling a different muscle in your arm, generally speaking.

    To use a computer analogy, controlling implants with probes in the brain is like staying in a hotel in NYC and controlling the lights in your house in California by installing a box that introspect the packets that flow through a core router on a major Internet backbone in Cleveland. Ten hours later, you drive to D.C., and the packets that went to your house get routed through Detroit instead, so your house isn't controllable. As you get closer to your house, you encounter fewer possible paths that actually go to your house. Thus, the closer you are to the endpoint, the greater the likelihood that the packets are going to pass through your tap. By the time the packets get to your house, you can be pretty sure that they're intended for your house, or at worst, for somebody in your general neighborhood.

    So by tapping the peripheral motor nerves, you'd reduce the number of problems you have to deal with down to one: the nerves near the implant site dying. And even in that case, repairs would be less dangerous; you would shorten the nerve in the person's shoulder area instead cutting into his/her skull. Also, the mechanisms that attack implants in the brain aren't present in the rest of the body, AFAIK, so you might have a whole different set of problems or you might have fewer problems, but it seems unlikely that you'd have the same problems.

  • No need for implants (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Clueless Nick (883532) on Wednesday August 04, 2010 @01:34AM (#33134490) Journal

    Everybody must have seen this video on TED:

    http://www.ted.com/talks/tan_le_a_headset_that_reads_your_brainwaves.html [ted.com]

    If you can read the electrical impulses non-intrusively and with a lightweight headgear, and then use an adaptive algorithm to learn an individual's 'fingerprint' brainwave patterns, you can easily use the technology to control everything from powered wheelchairs to those cool animatronic prosthetics developed by the Japanese. Of course, you will also need some corrective algorithms so that empathically generated signals do not start to control the hardware ;)

  • Sense of touch (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Clueless Nick (883532) on Wednesday August 04, 2010 @01:39AM (#33134526) Journal

    I was wondering about that ever since watching the robotic prosthetics on NHK and especially the said TED video. Would it be possible to tap into nerves on a patch of skin (e.g. where the missing appendage should have been) and 'train' the brain to read impulses there, rather than directly meddle with it surgically?

    Sci-fi time.

  • by plastbox (1577037) on Wednesday August 04, 2010 @04:51AM (#33135374) Homepage
    Why does so many here seem to think this would be needed? I'm pretty sure you could hook up the prosthetic limb to more or less any signal picked up from the implants and send the patient to physical(/mechanical) therapy. The brain is easily the worlds biggest neural net, and incredibly flexible and adaptive. The way I figure, there is no effing way the sensomotoric correlations wouldn't emerge on their own with use and exploration.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 04, 2010 @11:23AM (#33138296)

    Can you use this for additional limbs?

    I currently (touch wood) have 2 arms, but having a third or even fourth would be great.

    Could our brains handle the input for additional limbs, and is our skeleton adaptable enough to support the additional weight and torque?

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