Brain implants let man control robotic arm with thoughts

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Baku, May 29, AZERTAC 

A man in California who is paralysed from the neck down has had a chip implanted in his brain that allows him to control a robotic arm with his mind alone.

Erik Sorto, who was shot at the age of 21, has been paralysed for over 10 years. He signed up to a clinical trial that involved having a pair of sensors implanted into a part of his brain known as the posterior parietal cortex, which is where the initial intent to make a movement is formed.

The sensors monitor brain activity and detect complex bursts of electrical signals. These signals are then carried from the patient's brain to a computer, where they are translated into an instruction for a robotic limb.

According to researchers from the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), Mr Sorto learnt to control his robotic limb on the first day he tried. He was able to reach out his arm and shake hands with another person.

Over time, Mr Sorto has also leant to lift a drink to his mouth, and also control a cursor on a computer screen.

"I joke around with the guys that I want to be able to drink my own beer – to be able to take a drink at my own pace, when I want to take a sip out of my beer and to not have to ask somebody to give it to me," he said.

"I really miss that independence. I think that if it was safe enough, I would really enjoy grooming myself – shaving, brushing my own teeth. That would be fantastic."

This is not the first time that brain activity has been used to control robotic limbs. In 2009, for example, an Italian man who lost half his arm in a car crash was given a robotic hand that could be controlled by thoughts.

However, this is the first time that sensors have been implanted in the posterior parietal cortex rather than the motor cortex – the part of the brain responsible for the action of individual muscles. This results in more natural and fluid motions, according to the researchers.

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