The University of Pittsburg’s team of researchers has been working on a project that could change the lives of amputees. They have developed a mind-controlled robotic arm.
A paraplegic woman who controlled a robotic arm using just her thoughts has taken another step towards restoring her natural movements by controlling the arm with a range of complex hand movements. Thanks to the researchers at the University of Pittsburgh, Jan Scheuermann, who has longstanding quadriplegia and has been taking part in the study for over two years, has gone from giving “high fives” to the “thumbs up” after increasing the manoeuvrability of the robotic arm from seven dimensions (7D) to 10 dimensions (10D).
Jan Scheuermann, 55, from Pittsburgh, PA had been paralyzed from the neck down since 2003 due to a neurodegenerative condition. After her eligibility for a research study was confirmed 2012, Jan underwent surgery to be fitted with two quarter-inch electrode grids, each fitted with 96 tiny contact points, in the regions of Jan’s brain that were responsible for right arm and hand movements. “I named my implants Lewis and Clark because they were exploring uncharted territory,” Jan said. After the electrode grids in Jan’s brain were connected to a computer, creating a brain-machine interface (BMI), the 96 individual contact points picked up pulses of electricity that were fired between the neurons in Jan’s brain. By simply thinking of controlling her arm movements, Jan was able to make the robotic arm reach out to objects, as well as move it in a number of directions and flex and rotate the wrist. It also allowed her to feed herself chocolate.
Two years after the initial results, the researchers at the University of Pittsburgh have now shown that Jan can successfully move the robotic arm in further four dimensions through a number of hand movements, allowing for more detailed interaction with objects. Co-author of the study Dr. Jennifer Collinger said: “10D control allowed Jan to interact with objects in different ways, just as people use their hands to pick up objects depending on their shapes and what they intend to do with them. We hope to repeat this level of control with additional participants and to make the system more robust, so that people who might benefit from it will one day be able to use brain-machine interfaces in daily life.”
Jan Scheuermann commented, “This has been a fantastic, thrilling wild ride, and I am so glad I’ve done this.” “This study has enriched my life, given me new friends and co-workers, helped me contribute to research and taken my breath away. For the rest of my life, I will thank God every day for getting to be part of this team.” Now Jan Scheuermann can beat her brother a rock-paper-scissors. Funding for this project was done by DARPA.