Now you can control the bionic legs with your thoughts

Bionic
legs and feet that can be controlled by a patient’s mind have been unveiled. Using
sensors implanted inside muscle tissue, amputees have been able to control
their missing limbs in successful trials. It is reportedly the first time
amputees have been able to control their legs subconsciously in this way and
the breakthrough could lead to more sophisticated prosthesis in the future.

According
to Reuters, Össur created tiny implanted myoelectric sensors to surgically
install in patients’ remaining leg-muscle tissue. The two patients are already
trialling the technology. Developed by a company called Ossur, the world-first
technology involves surgically implanting 5 mm by 3 mm myoelectric sensors
(IMES) into a person’s residual muscle tissue to measure and interpret the
signals travelling between its nerve-endings and the brain. Leg movement is
triggered by a connected receiver, and the process is so streamlined, it allows
a patient to perform actions subconsciously.

Credit: Ossur

“The
brain power, when it takes over, actually gives impulses through the brain into
the muscles, then the muscles contract,” orthopaedic surgeon and director
of research and development at Ossur, Thorvaldur Ingvarsson, told Amy Pollack
at Reuters. “We put sensors into the muscles, and the muscles would pick
up the signals, and the signals move their way into the prosthetics, and then
the prosthetics react as your brain wants.”

The
technology differs from similar mind-controlled prosthetics because it doesn’t
require muscle tissue to be transplanted from another part of the body into the
affected area, says Pollock. This requires an intense amount of mental training
by the patient, because their brain has to get used to their muscle tissue
functioning in a completely different region of the body. One of the two
amputees who has been trialling the bionic legs for the past 12 months, Gummi
Olafsson, described to Pollock the bizarre feeling of controlling a piece of
technology like it was a natural part of his body:

“As
soon as I put my foot on, it took me about 10 minutes to get control of it. I
could stand up and just walk away. Come back, sit down, use my muscles to move
my foot in the position I wanted to use it. It was like you couldn’t believe
the feeling when you were moving your ankle. It was really strange. I couldn’t
explain it. It was like, I was moving it with my muscles, there was nobody else
doing it, the foot was not doing it, I was doing it, so it was really strange
and overwhelming.”

Ingvarsson
says that the next step for the technology might be to embed a network of
sensors into the prosthetic limbs to create a feedback loop about what’s going
on in the surrounding environment, similar to how sensors in driverless cars
create an impression of the pathways and obstacles around them.

Explore
further in 
Össur

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