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Thought-Controlled Robot

June 7, 2012

Two patients with near-total paralysis have learned to control a robotic arm with their thoughts.



Brain-powered robotics.  I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Two patients with severe paralysis have learned to control a robotic arm – using only their thoughts.  The work was led by neurologist Leigh Hochberg, who’s affiliated with Providence VA Medical Center, Harvard Medical School, Massachusetts General Hospital and Brown University.  The patients have brain implants that record activity in their motor cortex, which controls movement.  A computer relays the activity to the robotic arm, turning distinctive thought patterns into commands.  With lots of practice, the patients learned to mentally control the arm.  One of them used it to pick up a coffee mug and take a sip of coffee.

LEIGH HOCHBERG (Harvard, Brown, Mass General, Providence VA):

And that was the first time in nearly 15 years, since she had her brainstem stroke, that she had been able to serve herself coffee or serve herself anything.

Hochberg says the ultimate goal is to send thought commands directly to implants in a patient’s limbs, so they can regain some form of voluntary movement.  I’m Bob Hirshon for AAAS, the Science Society.

A 58-year-old woman, paralyzed by a stroke for almost 15 years, uses her thoughts to control a robotic arm, grasp a bottle of coffee, serve herself a drink, and return the bottle to the table. (Brown University)