New invention lets amputees control a robotic arm with their minds

Through the use of electronics and artificial intelligence (AI), a research team from the University of Minnesota has made mental reading possible. Amputees who can’t use their muscles to control a robotic arm can now do so thanks to a device developed by researchers at University of Minnesota.

The team says that, compared to previous technologies, this is more accurate and less invasive.

Robotic arm: electronic devices that read the human mind

Currently, most commercially available prosthetic limbs are operated from the shoulder or chest via a cable and harness system. The native limb above the prosthesis that the patient wears is monitored by sensors in more advanced models. However, both techniques can be difficult for amputees to learn and are sometimes unnecessary.

A small implanted device that attaches to the peripheral nerve in a person's arm has been created by the University of Minnesota's Department of Biomedical Engineering with help from commercial partners. The device can detect and analyze brain impulses when used in conjunction with a robotic arm and an artificial intelligence computer, allowing upper limb amputees to operate the arm with just their thoughts.

The researchers' most recent study was published in the Journal of Neural Engineering, which focuses on the multidisciplinary topic of neural engineering.

It's much more intuitive than any trading system. With previous commercial prosthetic systems, amputees hardly consider moving a finger whenever they want. Once the system detects arm muscles, it tries to contract those muscles.

These systems therefore require a lot of training and practice. Because we immediately read the nerve signal with our technology, it is aware of the patient's goal. All they have to do to move a finger is think about moving that finger.

says Jules Anh Tuan Nguyen, a biomedical engineering researcher at the University of Minnesota.

Nguyen is conducting this study with Zhi Yang, an associate professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering at the same university for about ten years. Nguyen was a crucial figure in the creation of neural chip technology.

DARPA funds technology development projects to help amputees

Yang was approached in 2012 to develop a nerve implant that could help amputees by Edward Keefer, a neuroscientist and CEO of Nerves, Incorporated. The couple conducted numerous successful clinical trials with real amputees after receiving funding from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) of the United States government.

In order to commercialize the technology, the researchers also collaborated with the University of Minnesota's Technology Commercialization Department to create a company called Fasikl, which is a play on the word "fasikl", which describes a bundle of nerve fibers .

According to Nguyen, it's crucial that the technology has a business group behind it to bequeath the necessary impact to real people and eventually improve the lives of patients.

Creating new technologies is exciting, but if you're just doing research in a lab, no one will really be affected. We would like to participate in clinical studies at the University of Minnesota for this purpose. I've had the honor of caring for several human patients over the past three or four years. When I'm able to help someone move their finger or do something they previously thought was impossible, I get very emotional.

These Nguyen.

This is one more step towards placing technological development at the service of human health. Bringing robotics closer to people suffering from a disabling problem.

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