Imagine for a second that you’ve lost a limb. You would suddenly be reliant on others to perform even the simplest tasks. Prosthetics can help, but until recently they were cumbersome, painful and unable to replicate natural motion.

Recent developments in mind-controlled prosthetics has now led to a point where prosthetics can be controlled by a user’s thoughts.

Using a technique called Osseointegration, doctoral student Max Ortiz of Chalmers University of Technology, believes he can connected a robot prosthetic to the nerves embedded in muscle tissue. Osseointegration is “the formation of a direct interface between an implant and bone, without intervening soft tissue”.

In previous attempts to control prosthesis by thought, researchers have attached electrodes to a patient’s skin to detect electrical signals. The issue with this technique is that skin moves and sweats and so the electrodes can’t accurately transmit signals for a sustained time period. 

By using Osseointegration Ortiz’s group can create a more stable anchor for receiving bio-electrical signals by placing electrodes closer to nerve tissue in muscle. Signals generated in the brain which instruct, for instance, an arm to move, can be picked up by the osseointegrated electrodes and sent to the prosthetic where they are deciphered by algorithms and turned into the mechanical motion of a prosthetic arm.

“Our technology helps amputees to control an artificial limb, in much the same way as their own biological hand or arm, via the person's own nerves and remaining muscles,” says Ortiz. “This is a huge benefit for both the individual and to society”

Ortiz and his team have been able to test their technology on a limited basis so far, but this winter the first operations to use their technology will begin.  According to Ortiz, “By testing the method on a few patients, we can show that the technology works and then hopefully get more grants to continue clinical studies and develop the technology further. This technology can then become a reality for lots of people. We want to leave the lab and become part of the patients’ everyday life. If the first operations this winter are successful, we will be the first research group in the world to make ‘thought-controlled prostheses’ a reality for patients to use in their daily activities, and not only inside research labs.”

Creating a prosthesis that can replicate the natural motion of a human limb is an incredible breakthrough on its own, but making one that can work in concert with a patients thoughts is significant on a completely different level.

Patients with this type of prosthetic may begin to feel much the same way they did before they lost their limbs. The ability to think a thing, and act it out immediately is a central component of physical independence.  Ortiz’s technology might just be able to give this back to his patients.

Read More at Chalmers University of Technology

Images Courtesy of Chalmers University of Technology & Wikipedia

 

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