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Robotic Arm Controlled by the Mind Sparks Hope For People With Neurodegenerative Disorders or Paralysis

Robotic Arm Controlled by the Mind Sparks Hope For People With Neurodegenerative Disorders or Paralysis
PHOTOGRAPH: University of Minnesota | Photo shows the amazing University if Minnesota research that created a robotic arm.

We have heard of scientists and device innovators creating robots autonomously navigating sidewalks to deliver stuff, or to be at the retail frontline. Now comes a new robotic invention — an arm that can be controlled by the mind.

“This is the first time in the world that people can operate a robotic arm to reach and grasp objects in a complex 3-D environment using only their thoughts without a brain implant,” said Bin He, director of the University of Minnesota’s Institute for Engineering in Medicine and its Center for Neuroengineering.

The technological breakthrough does away with risky surgical brain implants to make it work. The team of researchers, whose study was published online in Scientific Reports (a subsidiary of the Nature research journal), explained that the successful use of sensors in a specialized electroencephalogram cap worn on the head interpret brain signals and instruct the robotic arm to perform movements.

Tests Carried Out

Eight study subjects were subjected to tests that revealed that their thoughts could instruct an arm to complete a number of real-world tasks, such as picking up an object and putting it in another spot nearby. Subtle neurological differences exist in the way people think and instruct their limbs to move, so the robotic arm software is modified for each person to account for those individual differences.

It is high time a non-invasive option that can aid millions of people who are paralyzed or have neurodegenerative diseases is developed. The electroencephalography (EEG)-based brain-computer interface records tiny electrical activities produced by neurons in the subjects’ brain through the high-tech EEG cap fitted with 64 electrodes.

Eight out of 13 healthy human subjects completed all the 15 experimental sessions of the study wearing the cap. The subjects gradually learned to control the movement of their own arms without actually moving them.

When the University of Minnesota tweeted the news that its College of Science and Engineering researchers “pioneered a new robotic arm — controlled by the mind, without a brain implant,” online followers and visitors were awed. The next robotic innovation that may come out is possibly a brain-controlled robotic prosthetic limb attached to a person’s body,  Chinese researcher Bin He said.

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