Scientists at the University of Pittsburgh have achieved an "unprecedented" amount of fine motor control from a robotic arm manipulated by the human brain. Doctors implanted two sensors in the motor cortex portion of a 52-year-old paralysed woman's brain, with each sensor picking up electrical impulses from around 200 brain cells. The woman was then able to control the robotic arm using her thoughts after just two days of training, with her skill steadily increasing over time. The team says that after three months of use, the woman's task completion rate rose to 91.6 percent - she was also able to complete tasks up to 30 seconds faster than when she first began.
Mind-controlled robotic arms aren’t new by any means, but the level of dexterity and coordination attained with this latest development is extremely impressive. The video demonstrates it best: the arm successfully picks up a small cube of wood without too much difficulty, and even tosses a ball from one cup to another.
There is one issue holding back further performance improvement, though, as scar tissue that forms around the electrodes connected to the brain sensors impedes the signal that the computer receives. Thinner electrodes should help to solve the problem, but researchers are thinking even further ahead by envisioning wireless sensors for the patient, as well as touch sensitivity. There's no indication as to when this could become a practical solution for paralyzed patients or those currently fitted with prosthetics, but it's encouraging to see such rapid development of the technology.