Paralysed people use mind to move robot arm in study
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Two people who are virtually paralysed from the neck down have learned to manipulate a robotic arm with just their thoughts, using it to reach out and grab objects. One of them, a woman, was able to retrieve a bottle containing coffee and drink it from a straw — the first time she'd served herself since her stroke 15 years earlier, scientists reported on Wednesday.
"She had a smile on her face that I and the research team will never forget," said Dr. Leigh R. Hochberg of the Department of Veterans Affairs, an author of a study reporting the achievement.
The report, released online by the journal Nature, is the first published demonstration that humans with severe brain injuries can effectively control a prosthetic arm, using tiny brain implants.
Scientists have predicted for years that this brain-computer connection would one day allow people with injuries to the brain and spinal cord to live more independent lives. The technology is not yet ready for use outside the lab, experts said.
The two people, a 58-year-old woman and a 66-year-old man are unable to use their limbs as a result of strokes years ago. Each had a tiny sensor injected just below the skull, in an area of the motor cortex known to be active during limb movement. They learned to move a robotic arm by watching the researchers move the arm and imagining they were controlling it. The sensor — a chip of silicon with 96 pinprick electrodes connecting to a patch of neurons — transmitted those neurons' firing patterns from this imaginary movement to a computer, through a wire. The computer then translated the patterns into an electronic command: Move left, now down, now right.
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