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Surprising Science

Mind-Controlled Robots Restore Autonomy to Quadraplegics

Brain-computer interfacing has allowed quadriplegics to move robotic arms and hands with impressive dexterity. Researchers hope the technology will allow them increased autonomy in life. 

What’s the Latest Development?

By controlling a robotic arm and hand with her mind, quadriplegic Jan Scheuermann successfully high-fived someone, moved objects of different shapes and sizes and even fed herself a bar of chocolate. “Less than a year after she told the research team, ‘I’m going to feed myself chocolate before this is over,’ Ms. Scheuermann savored its taste and announced as they applauded her feat, ‘One small nibble for a woman, one giant bite for BCI.'” In the study, published in the online version of The Lancet, researchers explain that Ms. Scheuermann had not intentionally moved a hand in nine years. 

What’s the Big Idea?

Researchers were amazed with the rapid progress they made, working to map brain signals in a series of weeks. It was a task they had expected to take months. “Our findings indicate that by a variety of measures, she was able to improve her performance consistently over many days,” Dr. Schwartz explained. “The training methods and algorithms that we used in monkey models of this technology also worked for Jan, suggesting that it’s possible for people with long-term paralysis to recover natural, intuitive command signals to orient a prosthetic hand and arm to allow meaningful interaction with the environment.”

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