Health

Video: Paralyzed Woman Moves Robotic Arm with her Mind

| by Michael Allen

A 52-year-old woman named 'Jan,' who is paralyzed from the neck down, is able to move a robotic arm by her thoughts alone.

Jan lost the use of her limbs more than 10 years ago to a degenerative disease that damaged her spinal cord.

At Pittsburgh University, doctors found that Jan learned to make fluid movements with the brain-controlled robotic arm, reports the The Guardian.

The robotic arm is controlled by a new kind of computer program that translates natural brain activity, used to move human limbs, to move the robotic arm.

Researchers said Jan was able to move the robotic arm back, forward, right, left, and up and down only two days into her training. After a few weeks, Jan could change the position of the hand to pick up objects on a table and put them down at another location.

Dr. Andrew Schwartz, professor of neurobiology at Pittsburgh University, told The Guardian: "We were blown away by how fast she was able to acquire her skill, that was completely unexpected. At the end of a good day, when she was making these beautiful movements, she was ecstatic."

Doctors connected Jan to the robotic arm with a four-hour operation, in which they implanted two tiny grids of electrodes into Jan's brain. The electrodes were pushed just beneath the surface of the brain, near the neurons which control hand and arm movements.

Wires from the electrodes ran to connectors on the outside of Jan's head. The connectors were used to plug Jan into the computer system and the robotic arm. Her neurons, which would normally fire commands to her spinal column, were now firing commands to the robotic arm.

Dr. Schwartz added: "Once we understand which direction each neuron likes to fire in, we can look at a larger group of neurons and figure out what direction the patient is trying to move the arm in."