New Brain Implant Allows Injured People To Control Two Prosthetic Arms At The Same Time

Dhir Acharya - Dec 16, 2020

New Brain Implant Allows Injured People To Control Two Prosthetic Arms At The Same Time

The research team implanted 6 electrodes into the patient's brain in a 10-hour surgical procedure, letting him control two prosthetic arms at the same time.

A quadriplegic man could control two prosthetic arms at the same time thanks to the help of the technology developed by scientists from John Hopkins University. This is believed to be the first case in the medical field.

In collaboration, the John Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) and the John Hopkins Medicine (JHM) implanted 6 electrodes into Robert Chmielewski’s brain in a 10-hour surgical procedure. As a result, Chmielewski’s sensation in his hands was improved and he was able to operate his prosthetic arms with his mind, according to the press release from the John Hopkins Medicine.

Prosthetic Arms
The researchers implanted electrodes into the patient's brain

Over the last 30 years, Chmielewski has been paralyzed after a surfing accident that left him with minimal movement in the extremities. Now that APL has collaborated with JHM for nearly two years, Chmielewski can use both of his robotic arms to do simple tasks like feeding himself.

A member of the team, Pablo Celnik said:

“This type of research, known as brain-computer interface (BCI), has, for the most part, focused on only one arm, controlled from only one side of the brain.”

At the same time, Gabriela Cantarero, another member of the research team added:

“Simultaneous brain-machine interface control of two limbs is a particular challenge because it’s not a simple 1+1 summation of what the left arm is doing plus what the right arm is doing in the brain, but more like trying to calculate the sum of the two arms as 1 plus 1 equals 3.8.”

prosthetic arms
He was able to control both arms simultaneously

The technology relies on a system that uses AI to automate part of the robotic control. The research team aimed at combining brain-computer interface signals with AI and robotics to let the user focus on details like which object to lift up or where to cut when they eat. Meanwhile, AI would take control as soon as the user made the decision.

The next step is to expand the types and number of daily activities that this technology can enable and to provide users with more sensory feedback when tasks are performed. This means users won’t have to look to know if they are succeeding, just like uninjured people can feel as they are tying their shoelaces without looking.


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