Man controls robotic arm with his mind
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. The chips 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. These can 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. That was 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. That was according to 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. They worked to get the robotic arm to move. The movements started with a handshake. They graduated to more complicated tasks. The sensors relayed their signals to the arm. Thus, they bypassed 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. It 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. 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. Then she brought it to her lips. In another instance, a quadriplegic man in Pennsylvania used a robotic arm to give a high-five. He could also make it stroke his girlfriend's hand.

Erik Sorto has a caregiver at home, but he goes to the rehab center several times a week. He practices 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. That 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. Then 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. The brain implants must also be more durable.

Currently, wire connections run from a patient's brain to outside the skull. That increases the risk of infections. Future systems need to be wireless and contained within the body like pacemakers. That is according to experts J. Andrew Pruszynski of Western University in Canada and Jorn Diedrichsen of University College London. They wrote about it 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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Assigned 72 times

  • MaxRen
    6/03/2015 - 02:49 p.m.

    This is one of the coolest things that I have ever seen in my whole life! I mean, nothing is cooler than having a robotic arm controlled by your mind!

  • christianhv
    6/03/2015 - 02:57 p.m.

    I think they put chips in his brain so he can control different robotic arms, not just one. I think that this is next level COOL! A man controlling a robotic hand (which is cool on its own) with his mind! This is also bad because it could be the start of the next world war. This man is lucky in his own way. Lets go Erik Sorto!

  • Hunter307
    6/03/2015 - 03:08 p.m.

    Its really amazing that we now have the tech to allow brain signals to react to machines to control them with out using our hands or mouths but just thoughts! I can't wait until we have the capability of going even further by making people walk with just thinking about it.

  • MGallagher
    6/03/2015 - 04:56 p.m.

    Scientists implanted chips In a man who had been paralyzed by gunshots' brain. The chips let him control a robotic arm. He played games like Rock Paper Scissors, drank water, and shok hands. Sorto wait "It tasted like a little bit of heaven."

  • SebastianH-1
    6/03/2015 - 06:00 p.m.

    Erik Sorto, a man who was paralyzed by a gunshot, is now using a robotic arm controlled by his thoughts. Doctors implanted chips in his brain so they can compute signals from the brain into a command for the arm. This century many inventions have came around that make the lives of the disabled much easier. This article had a good size and described Erik's story and had some background information to inform the reader more about the subject.

  • Steve0620-yyca
    6/03/2015 - 07:27 p.m.

    The robotic arm is one solution to people with disabilities that have to do with movement. It is cool how you can control an arm through your brain because of a chip that the doctor puts in your head. The surgery takes a long time and the people receiving the surgery will be temporarily passed out. The arm can be really useful for people with disabilities in movement. The arm can help you drink, eat, grab things, or play hand games like rock, paper, scissors. You can just sit down on your chair or bed and grab something without using too much energy. The robotic arm is a useful tool for people to use but it takes a long time to control it because you need to have a surgery.

  • charlotteg-Fit
    6/03/2015 - 08:20 p.m.

    Researchers planted chips in his brain because it's his brain that controls the movement of his arm. I think it so interesting that scientists are able to make things like this, particularly since this invention has so much potential when it comes to helping the paralyzed and disabled. Being able to perfect this kind of technology will have a definite impact in improving the lives of the disabled. It is also amazing that they have been able to come up with something this complicated and have it work as well as it does. Chips in peoples brains that can control robot arms sounds like something from a science fiction novel and it's amazing that we were able to make something like that.

  • senecar-Fit
    6/03/2015 - 08:22 p.m.

    The researchers put implants in Erik's brain instead of his arm because people control things from their mind. The arm moved from thinking of Erik's arm moving. So Erik's thoughts moved his arm. His thoughts were transferred to the robotic arm and the arm did what Erik thought. If the implant chips were put in his arm then it wouldn't be able to move because an arm doesn't have thoughts.

  • hamiltonl-Fit
    6/03/2015 - 08:26 p.m.

    Researchers implanted chips in Erik's head and not his arm because he can't move his arm. The implants in his arm would do nothing because he is paralyzed but can still think. His spinal cord is damaged which affects everything below his head. His head and brain are completely fine so he can still control them. that is why researchers implanted chips in Erik's brain and not his arm.

  • Eric0221-YYCA
    6/03/2015 - 08:46 p.m.

    I think that it is cool for researchers to implant a chip which is going to let the man with the robotic arm to move if he is saying to himself like he wants to grab a cup of water, so I think that in the future, paralyzed people would have something like an robotic arm. Well if paralyzed people that needed a robotic arm, I think that it would work if they have been paralyzed for over a decade or something like that.

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