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Mind Over Muscles: Controlling A Robot Arm With Only Her Brain
May 16, 2012
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For the last 15 years, Cathy Hutchinson has not been able to move her arms or legs. But now, thanks to a new robotic arm that she can control with her mind, Cathy was able to pick up and serve herself a coffee. According to the journal Nature, the robot arm, which was built by researchers at Brown University in Rhode Island, is "the most advanced brain-machine interface in action".

In the video below, Cathy demonstrates the abilities of the robot arm, and some of the researchers behind the tech discuss the work they're doing. The technology bypasses the damaged area of the nervous system, allowing the patient to control a machine or device using only their mind.

The overall system is called "Brain Gate", and its first successful use was in 2006, when Matt Nagle, paralyzed in all four limbs, was able to use a computer with only his brain. AThe video states, however, that going from controlling a cursor to moving a full robot arm was a big challenge, and the team worked with robotics experts to ensure the tech would be safe and responsive to its environment.

The technology requires implanting a sensor into the region of the brain that controls motor functions, a procedure that Cathy underwent five years ago. When it came time to experiment with the robot arm, she did not receive any explicit training. And although the team says "robotic reach and grasp actions were not as fast or accurate as those of an able-bodied person", they believe this technology demonstrates the feasibility of helping people with injuries of this type to control complex devices with their minds.

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