Mind-controlled prosthetic limbs are now a reality

Swedish scientists have fitted a man with a robotic artificial arm that’s connected to his brain as well as his body, providing the best functionality that’s ever been achieved with a prosthetic limb.

The arm is directly attached to his bone via a titanium implant, while neuromuscular electrodes are connected to his nerves and muscles, allowing him to easily move the arm just by thinking. This new technique is called osseointegration, and the aim is to make the prosthesis feel like part of the body.

The patient became an amputee more than a decade ago and previously used an artificial arm that was controlled by over-the-skin electrodes, making it far less reliable and sensitive than the new system. He’s now able to operate machinery, tie laces, move an egg without breaking it, and carry out other precise and delicate tasks with ease.

Max Ortiz Catalan, who worked on the project, said: ‘We see this technology as an important step towards more natural control of artificial limbs. It is the missing link for allowing sophisticated neural interfaces to control sophisticated prostheses. So far, this has only been possible in short experiments within controlled environments.’

As well as being mind-controlled, the robotic arm is also able to transmit info in the opposite direction, sending sensory information from the hand or arm to the brain. The patient can already feel touch in his hand, and the scientists now want to expand their research to make this process easier and more reliable. They plan to offer the system to more patients over the next few months.

Image via The Natural Control of Artificial Limbs’ YouTube channel.

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Diane Shipley