Brain-machine interface helped a man with paralysis feed himself using robotic arms

A new technique lets people control bionic arms with little mental effort.

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Robotic arms help a man with paralysis feed himself
Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory/Johns Hopkins School of Medicine

People with arm paralysis might easily feed themselves in the future. Johns Hopkins University-led researchers have developed a new technique that let a partially paralyzed man feed himself using robotic arms connected through a brain-machine interface. He only had to make small movements with his fists at certain prompts (such as "select cut location") to have the fork- and knife-equipped arms cut food and bring it to his mouth. He could have dessert within 90 seconds, according to the researchers.

The new method centers on a shared control system that minimizes the amount of mental input required to complete a task. He could map his four-degree freedom of movement (two for each hand) to as many as 12 degrees of freedom for controlling the robot arms. The limbs' prompt-based intelligent responses also reduced the workload.

The technology is still young. Scientists want to add touch-like sensory feedback instead of relying exclusively on visuals. They also hope to improve the accuracy and efficiency while reducing the need for visual confirmation. In the long term, though, the team sees robotic arms like these restoring complex movements and providing more independence to people with disabilities.

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