Advances in the World of Robotic Arms

Posted on Dec 21 2012 - 11:00pm by Thomas Sharp

Isn’t it great when we read about a gadget which is actually really useful? Don’t get us wrong, we love frivolous Star Wars alarm clocks and multimedia socks as much as the next person but we do also like to see technology which helps people’s lives.

For example, researchers in the US have managed to use a paralysed lady’s thoughts to give her an incredible level of control over a robotic arm.

The woman in question is called Jan Scheuermann and the 53 year old was able to grab and move things with the robotic arm in a way which has never been possible up until now.

The trial involved the use of brain implants and some experts said that it was “remarkable” and “unprecedented”.

Sensors in the Brain

roboticThe work involved implanting two sensors in the motor cortex of her brain. Each of these sensors measured 4 mm by 4 mm and included 100 little needles which picked up on the electricity activity generated by the lady’s brain cells.

Professor Andrew Schartz from the University of Pittsburgh said that neurons fire out little pulses and that it is a bit like “listening to a Geiger counter click”. These pulses coming out the user’s brain are then transformed into orders to the robotic arm which will move it, bend it, pick something up or do anything else which you could want to do.

It seems that during the testing period Jan was in control of the arm following a couple days of training. She then used it over 14 weeks and managed to gain an increasingly better level of control over it.

The one drawback so far is that this was all done inside in a lab and we are still waiting for the breakthroughs which will let robotic arms such as this one be used at home.

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