Paralyzed man controls robotic arms with his imagination

CALIFORNIA: New technology promises to people who are paralyzed or lost their limbs to have a normal life.


This technology has led a man who was paralyzed to have a normal life.

Erick Sorto underwent a five hour surgery in 2013 where small chips were implanted into his brain. The sensors decode his thoughts to move the free standing robotic arm.

The sensors in the chip recorded the electrical activity of about 100 brain cells as Sorto imagined reaching and grasping.

A team of scientists at the California Institute of Technology led by Tyson Aflalo and Richard Anderson have obtained intention directly from the neural activity with implanted chips and can use robotic limbs to act out those urges.

Andersen said, “When you move your arm, you really don’t think about which muscles to activate and the details of the movement such as lift the arm, extend the arm, grasp the cup, close the hand around the cup, and so on.

Instead, you think about the goal of the movement. For example, ‘I want to pick up that cup of water. So in this trial, we were successfully able to decode these actual intents, by asking the subject to simply imagine the movement as a whole, rather than breaking it down into a myriad components.”

The clinical trial was a collaboration between Caltech, the Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California (USC) and Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center.

The project is a collaboration between many institutes and clinics.

Sorto’s prosthetics were made by Johnsons Hopkins University’s Applied Physics laboratory in Maryland, the neural chips were made from University of Utah.

Sorto said, “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. I really miss that independence.

I think that if it were safe enough, I would really enjoy grooming myself shaving, brushing my own teeth. That would be fantastic.”

Christianne Heck, associate professor of neurology at USC and co-author of the study said, “These very important early clinical trials could provide hope for patients with all sorts of neurologic problems that involve paralysis such as stroke, brain injury, ALS and even multiple sclerosis.”


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