Artificial Limbs, Technology and the Power of the Human Brain
Michelle Bryner contributed an article to the TechNewsDaily that highlights how researchers are making extraordinary progress with artificial limbs. Should we be surprised that technology is about to harness the power of the human brain? Not when you consider, and it has long been understood, that the relationship between mind and body is one of signals between them! Robotics is a branch of science that has seen a remarkable breakthrough in how computer controlled machines respond to programmed commands sent to them. This is known as prosthetic limbs technology.
Controlling Robots with an Artificial Arm
Hence, find the means to switch waves from the brain into signals a computer can convert to movement, and eureka! Imagine what that will mean for those who need to rely on artificial limbs to get about! The research itself involves the implanting of a computer interface into the brain of a patient. The two volunteers mentioned in the article both have injuries to the spinal cord. During the experiment these paraplegics were to play games with video. While interacting with virtual reality, controlling robots with an artificial arm, their brain patterns were to be monitored and recorded. From the data produced further development as to the control of external devices was hoped for.
A Great Stride Forward for Amputees
Michael Boninger, the University of Pittsburgh, Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, chairman and professor, hopes that this will offer subjects ‘multiple degrees of freedom,’ eventually. By extracting true quality control signals that the brain produces, it will mean a great stride forward for amputees and individuals with spinal cord injuries. Having fine manoeuvrability with artificial limbs and even other external devices, will give them the independence they surely long for. This type of venture has been tried before, but as with most forms of technological developments, things improve over time.
So just how far has this particular area of prosthetics come? Tanya Lewis reported in September 2012, that a man was actually walking upon a treadmill in full control of robot legs. Communication between the man’s brain and the artificial limbs was made possible by a new ‘brain-computer’ interface. Although the person that took part in the test is able-bodied, it does, nevertheless, provide a foundation on which to build. An important advancement in this field of science!
A Step in the Right Direction
The accuracy of that trial was said to be 95% with respect to movement predictions. One or two minor glitches happened, such as the machine starting up without it being prompted to do so. The action of the machine resembled passive walking more than the natural movement of leg muscle. This suggests control with leg muscles is unnecessary when it comes to walking with robotic assistance. Naturally, for artificial limbs, the only true test is with people who have paralysis. Certainly a step in the right direction with speed and turning to be addressed in time.
The technology employed in this is electrocorticography. Two types of devices are available. One that reads signals on the surface of, the other that has one hundred little pins that actually penetrate into the brain. The latter is designed to compile a record of information from individual cells within the brain. What works for a particular individual may not have the desired effect for another. Therefore, these technologies are seen as being complementary, at least potentially.
Yes science, technology and the power of the human brain, are making valuable inroads into the sphere of artificial limbs. May the advancements continue to the good of all who will benefit from them with regard to prosthetic limbs technology!