Mind-controlled robotic arm could help the physically disabled people

People with disabilities meet
barriers of all types. However, technology is helping to lower many of these
barriers. By using computing technology for tasks such as reading and writing documents,
communicating with others, and searching for information on the Internet,
students and employees with disabilities are capable of handling a wider range
of activities independently. When new technologies emerge, too often the
concept of accessibility is considered an afterthought or used in ways that do
not improve the lives of the people who need assistance. In line with this, a
breakthrough of mind-controlled robotic arm is created to help the people.

A paralyzed woman who controlled a
robotic arm using just her thoughts has taken another step towards restoring
her natural movements by controlling the arm with a range of complex hand
movements.Thanks to researchers at the University of Pittsburgh, Jan
Scheuermann, who has longstanding quadriplegia and has been taking part in the
study for over two years, has gone from giving “high fives” to the
“thumbs-up” after increasing the maneuverability of the robotic arm
from seven dimensions (7D) to 10 dimensions (10D).

The extra dimensions come from four
hand movements–finger abduction, a scoop, thumb extension and a pinch–and
have enabled Jan to pick up, grasp and move a range of objects much more
precisely than with the previous 7D control.It is hoped that these latest
results, which have been published in ‘Institute of Physics’
Publishing’s Journal of Neural Engineering, can build on previous
demonstrations and eventually allow robotic arms to restore natural arm and
hand movements in people with upper limb paralysis.

Jan Scheuermann, 55, from
Pittsburgh, PA had been paralyzed from the neck down since 2003 due to a
neurodegenerative condition. After her eligibility for a research study was
confirmed in 2012, Jan underwent surgery to be fitted with two quarter-inch
electrode grids, each fitted with 96 tiny contact points, in the regions of
Jan’s brain that were responsible for right arm and hand movements.After the
electrode grids in Jan’s brain were connected to a computer, creating a
brain-machine interface (BMI), the 96 individual contact points picked up
pulses of electricity that were fired between the neurons in Jan’s brain.

Computer algorithms were used to
decode these firing signals and identify the patterns associated with a
particular arm movement, such as raising the arm or turning the wrist.By simply
thinking of controlling her arm movements, Jan was then able to make the
robotic arm reach out to objects, as well as move it in a number of directions
and flex and rotate the wrist. It also enabled Jan to “high five” the
researchers and feed herself dark chocolate.

Two years on from the initial
results, the researchers at the University of Pittsburgh have now shown that
Jan can successfully manoeuvre the robotic arm in a further four dimensions
through a number of hand movements, allowing for more detailed interaction with
objects.The researchers used a virtual reality computer program to calibrate
Jan’s control over the robotic arm, and discovered that it is crucial to
include virtual objects in this training period in order to allow reliable,
real-time interaction with objects.Co-author of the study Dr Jennifer Collinger
said: “10D control allowed Jan to interact with objects in different ways,
just as people use their hands to pick up objects depending on their shapes and
what they intend to do with them. We hope to repeat this level of control with
additional participants and to make the system more robust, so that people who
might benefit from it will one day be able to use brain-machine interfaces in
daily life.

“We also plan to study whether
the incorporation of sensory feedback, such as the touch and feel of an object,
can improve neuroprosthetic control.”Commenting on the latest results, Jan
Scheuermann said: “”This has been a fantastic, thrilling, wild ride,
and I am so glad I’ve done this.This study has enriched my life, given me new
friends and co-workers, helped me contribute to research and taken my breath
away. For the rest of my life, I will thank God every day for getting to be
part of this team.”

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