Man controls robotic arm with his mind Dr. Charles Y. Liu, left, a neurosurgeon at the University of Southern California, laughs with patient Erik Sorto in Pasadena, California (AP photos)
Man controls robotic arm with his mind
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A man paralyzed by a gunshot more than a decade ago can shake hands, drink and play "rock, paper, scissors" by controlling a robotic arm with his thoughts, researchers have reported.

Two years ago, doctors in California implanted a pair of tiny chips into the brain of Erik Sorto that decoded his thoughts to move the free-standing robotic arm. The 34-year-old has been working with researchers and occupational therapists to practice and fine-tune his movements.

It's the latest attempt at creating mind-controlled prosthetics to help disabled people gain more independence. In the last decade, several people outfitted with brain implants have used their minds to control a computer cursor or steer prosthetic limbs.

Here are some things to know about the new work, published by the journal Science:

Doctors at the University of Southern California implanted small chips into Sorto's brain during a five-hour surgery in 2013. The sensors recorded the electrical activity of about 100 brain cells as Sorto imagined reaching and grasping.

Researchers asked Sorto to think about what he wanted to do instead of breaking down the steps of the movements, said principal investigator Richard Andersen at the California Institute of Technology.

After weeks of imagining movements, Sorto trained with Caltech scientists and therapists at Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center to move the robotic arm, starting with a handshake and graduating to more complicated tasks. The sensors relayed their signals to the arm, bypassing Sorto's damaged spinal cord.

Scientists have long strived to make robotic arms produce movements that are as natural as possible. Previous research targeted a region of the brain known as the motor cortex, which controls movement.

The latest work has zeroed in on a different area of the brain the posterior parietal cortex that's involved in the planning of movements. The hope is that this strategy will lead to smoother motions.

It's unclear whether the new approach is better because no side-by-side comparisons have been made yet, but it gives researchers a potential new target in the brain.

In 2012, a Massachusetts woman paralyzed for 15 years directed a robotic arm to pick up a bottle of coffee and bring it to her lips. In another instance, a quadriplegic man in Pennsylvania used a robotic arm to give a high-five and stroke his girlfriend's hand.

Erik Sorto has a caregiver at home, but he goes to the rehab center several times a week to practice using the robotic arm.

Since suffering a gunshot wound 13 years ago, he longed to have a drink without help. The first time he tried with the prosthetic arm, he was so excited that he lost his concentration and caused the arm to spill the drink. On the second try, he directed the arm to pick up the bottle and bring it to his mouth where he sipped through a straw.

It tasted "like a little piece of heaven," Sorto said.

Despite progress in the last decade, hurdles remain before brain-controlled prosthetics can help paralyzed people in their daily lives.

Experts said computer programs must run faster to interpret brain signals and the brain implants must be more durable.

Currently, wire connections run from a patient's brain to outside the skull, increasing the risk of infections. Future systems need to be wireless and contained within the body like pacemakers, experts J. Andrew Pruszynski of Western University in Canada and Jorn Diedrichsen of University College London wrote in an accompanying editorial in Science.

Critical thinking challenge: Why did researchers implant chips in Eriks brain instead of his arm?

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COMMENTS (19)
  • 1AugieK
    6/03/2015 - 05:05 p.m.

    -creating a thorough summary of the article that answers the 5 W Qs

    Erik Sorto had a computer chip implanted in his brain in 2013 in California. Sorto was paralyzed due to a gunshot wound, and he wanted to be more independent, so he got the chips implanted in his brain to control a robotic arm. The surgery took 5 hours, and it was well worth it. Now he can use the robotic arm to do tasks like bringing a drink up to his mouth just to quench his thirst, which he wasn't able to do alone before now. It took lots of training and therapy, but he is very happy now.

  • Josh01Chargers
    6/03/2015 - 08:40 p.m.

    That is so cool. I wish I had robotic arms like that. I wonder if they would let me try it out. I would do my homework with them.

  • JU00baseball
    6/04/2015 - 08:39 a.m.

    I think that this is a really good idea for people to do. Its not only boosting h is self esteem but its also showing him that he is still human no matter what.

  • 3JakeS
    6/04/2015 - 08:52 a.m.

    This article is about a man named Erik Sorto who lost both of his hands through gunshot. Scientists were able to hook him up with a pair of bionic hands, that are controlled through his brain. A chip was implanted into his brain so that he would be able to control the arm through his brain. If the chip is in his brain, it improves the authenticity of his arm.

  • conner.mills50
    6/04/2015 - 12:43 p.m.

    I find it amazing how far we have come with robotics. We used to imagine having implants, but now we have bionic arms that are controlled by the brain. This man is very lucky to get a bionic arm, it is not very common to be one of the first people to get a bionic arm. This is a expensive product, it costs $50,000-$60,000.

  • 5michaelD
    6/04/2015 - 12:45 p.m.

    This article is about a man that was paralyzed from a gunshot. Doctors from California were able to get him bionic arms and the way he controlled them is from his brain, the doctors put a chip in his brain so he could control the arms from his brain, he controls it with his thoughts in his brain.

  • 8koltone
    6/04/2015 - 12:54 p.m.

    A man named Erik Sorto was recently given a prosthetic arm. In 2013 doctors at the University of Southern California implanted small chips into the man's brain. The way it works is that the man thinks and the past two years they have tracked his thought into what his arm thinks about doing. In the two years the researchers have tracked the movements and worked on the arm. The man's arm is fully functional and he can do lots of stuff that he was not able to do.

  • MarilynEngelhardt
    6/04/2015 - 01:08 p.m.

    I've never heard of prosthetics that you can move with your mind. The surgeons that inserted the chips must have to be very professional neurosurgeons to pull off a surgery like this. I did some further research on surgeries like this and found that some mind controlled prosthetics can even give you a sense of touch. Some people, after the surgery, can even go back to their jobs and can successfully do their work. Overall, I think this is a expensive but powerful accessory that should continue to the future and make lives better.

  • 1seanB
    6/04/2015 - 01:23 p.m.

    Wow! I cant believe Sorto can control his arm with his mind. I bet Sorto is really lucky and glad this happened to his life. The doctor who had done this to Sorto Must have felt like he had just helped someones life out. How did Sorto even find the stuff to help Sorto out? I wonder if Sorto even thought he was lucky enough to have a new arm controlled by his arm? Sorto is a very lucky man. I learned a lot of new things that are happening to people and other important materials. lastly, i wonder what kind of gun shot Sorto.

  • 5ReganF
    6/04/2015 - 01:35 p.m.

    Critical thinking:

    Erik Sorto had computer chips implanted in his brain instead of his arm due to the fact that you cannot control your movements in your arm using just your arm. Your brain is the system for everything in your body, including motor control, where moving an arm, for example, comes into play. The chips were implanted in the motor control region of Sortos brain so he could tell the arm what to do. Wires ran down Sortos arm from the computer chips, giving him the ability to freely move his arm by thought.

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