IT MAY SOUND like a concept from a science fiction film, but In December last year researchers at the University of Pittsburgh pulled off a remarkable feat: the operation of a robotic arm with mind control alone. Two tiny arrays of 96 electrodes were implanted just beneath the surface of the brain of 52-year-old quadriplegic Jan Scheuermann.
The electrodes fed information from her brain to a robotic arm, which she could manipulate in realtime by simply thinking about doing so.
To give Jan control of the arm, doctors first recorded her mental activity using an fMRI scanner as she imagined moving her arm. This enabled them to place the electrodes on the part of the brain that was active when thinking of arm movement, in the motor cortex.
The electrodes penetrate into the brain and are able to pick up the activity of individual neurones. Computer algorithms were then used to identify the different patterns of firing neurones associated with various imagined arm movements. When the system was connected to the robotic arm, these movements were then translated Into a corresponding action.
The signals from the brain are translated into a corresponding movement of the robotic arm by a computer.
The robotic arm can be moved in real-time by simply imagining doing so. It took Jan Scheuermann just weeks to be able to pick up and manipulate objects with the arm.