Mind-control technology offers hope to paralysis victims

Catastrophic injuries can change a person’s life forever. Spinal cord injuries can be particularly devastating and can leave people paralyzed or unable to move on their own. Years ago, there were few options for recovery following injuries like this. However, medical technology has made great advancements over time.

In fact, researchers reported this week that a paralyzed Massachusetts woman was able to pick up a bottle and drink from it by using a robotic arm that she controlled with her thoughts. This is incredible news for anyone who has lost mobility or sensation as the result of a catastrophic injury or neurological disorder.

The researchers said this was the first time a brain-controlled prosthetic arm has been able to reach for and grasp an object. They said even though it will likely be years before a similar product is available to the general public, this was a groundbreaking achievement.

Other brain-controlled prosthetics have been used to high-five and operate a computer cursor in recent years, which were also great advancements. A scientist who is developing another thought-controlled robotic arm at the University of Pittsburg said this is only the beginning of what’s to come in the field.

“You’re going to be seeing much more in the near future – much more natural movements, faster movements, approaching what normal [people] can do,” he said.

The key breakthrough was programming computers to read brain signals as arm and hand motion. It took teams of brain scientists, engineers, mathematicians and computer scientists more than a decade to master this brain-computer interface, called BrainGate.

Essentially, a tiny chip the size of a baby aspirin is implanted in the person’s brain and a cable is attached to the skull to transmit the signal sent by the brain. Eventually, researchers hope to develop wireless technology which would be more practical for everyday use.

Even so, the latest development is miraculous for people who have been immobile for years.

Source: The Washington Post, “Paralyzed woman moves robotic arm with her thoughts,” Brian Vastag, May 16, 2012