Bionic Breakthrough: Functioning Mind-Controlled Prosthetic Arms


A recent medical breakthrough has been achieved by Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory. An armless man has been able to control a pair of prosthetic arms, just by using his mind.

The Colorado man named Les Baugh lost both his arms in an electrical accident 40 years ago, where both arms had to be taken off right by the shoulder. He has been trying to manage his daily life ever since, but now there is a glimpse of real hope considering his condition.

Les Baugh has successfully tested out a pair of modular prosthetic limbs, and is the first bilateral shoulder-level amputee to simultaneously control two mechanical arms just with his thoughts. In the press release, Johns Hopkins calls the trial a historical breakthrough.

The patient was able to operate the system simply by thinking about moving his limbs and was able to perform a variety of tasks during a short training period. Before applying the prosthetics, Baugh had to perform a surgery called targeted muscle reinnervation. This relatively new surgical procedure reassigns the nerves that once controlled the arms and hands.

A few weeks after the surgery the patient was equipped with a socket which was custom made for his torso, the purpose of the socket is to support the prosthetic limbs and make the neurological connections with the reinnervated nerves.

After everything was in place, Baugh was able to perform activities commonly faced in a day-to-day environment, something that has not been possible with currently available prostheses. The speed with which the patient was able to learn motions exceeded the expectations of the researchers, and another major milestone was that he was able to coordinate motions of both arms at the same time.

According to Business Insider, Baugh and the researchers used pattern recognition algorithms to identify how individual muscles would contract and communicate with each other. The data was then translated into actual movements inside the prosthetic arms. The patient just went into a whole different world, in his own words.

The researchers are obviously extremely happy with the trials, but still claim that we are at an early stage of what we can expect in the future. They compare it to the early days of the internet, and whilst immensely impressive in its current form there is more to come to the mind-controlled prosthetics.  Within five to 10 years we will see phenomenal advancements, in the words of the researches.

As a final note, it is worth mentioning that we see continuous advancements within the area in various places around the world. For instance, just a couple of months ago, related research conducted at Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden made world news.

In this case, a patient who got his right arm amputated 10 years ago was also equipped with an amazing mind-controlled prosthetic arm. CNET reports that this arm was directly attached to the skeleton and that the patient has been able to perform very impressive tasks.

Since the surgery, he has been able to do his physically demanding job as a truck driver, completing tasks such as clamping his trailer load and operating machinery — as well as more delicate day-to-day tasks such as handling eggs and tying the laces on his children’s skates.

The Swedish case is undoubtedly extremely impressive, but differs from the American one in that the patient only controlled one prosthetic arm and that his arm had been taken off just above the elbow as compared to at the shoulder.

Conclusively, stories like these are what makes people fall in love technology and maybe appreciate its potential to another extent. To help previously left-to-drift individuals is truly tech application at its best.


1 Comment

  1. Peter Turesson on

    This site is fantastic, it really displays technical innovations, trends and questions we all should take part of, now and in the future.

    Keep up the good work!


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