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Robotics Science

Thought-Controlled Prosthetics 88

Ponca City, We Love You writes "Physiatrist Todd A. Kuiken, M.D., Ph.D. has pioneered a technique known as targeted muscle reinnervation (TMR), that allows a prosthetic arm to respond directly to the brain's signals, allowing wearers to open and close their artificial hands and bend and straighten their artificial elbows nearly as naturally as their own arms. Doctors first perform nerve transfer surgery to redirect nerves that go to the amputated arm to the patient's chest muscles. Then when the chest muscle contracts, an electromyogram picks up the electrical signal to move the prosthetic arm. So when the patient thinks 'close hand,"' the hand closes. Now the team wants to see if they can extract more information from the electrical signals produced by the nerves to provide a greater number of hand and arm movements. Theyd have been able to identify unique EMG patterns with 95% accuracy for 16 different elbow, wrist, hand, thumb, and finger movements. 'We've been able to demonstrate remarkable control of artificial limbs and it's an exciting neural machine interface that provides a lot of hope,' says Dr. Kuiken."
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Thought-Controlled Prosthetics

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  • So where do I sign up?
    • They re-route the nerves that would have otherwise controlled your arm to your chest. So unless you are actually missing an arm, I wouldn't go signing any papers just yet.
      It is nice to dream though. Imagine using your thoughts to control a set of limbs over a network, or to add extra limbs Doc Oc style. But it looks like it will be a while.
  • by ChrisMounce ( 1096567 ) on Monday November 12, 2007 @09:11AM (#21322175)
    After a couple months of using the hand, you get rock-hard abs!
  • Imagine a pro athlete sacrificing a limb for a better one...
  • I saw on TV news 2-3 years ago a prostetic arm used by a Scottish hotellier, which claimed to be thought-driven and gave him enough dexterity and strength to pull a pint.
  • Could this be an alternative to viagra? Aging men want to know.
  • by name*censored* ( 884880 ) on Monday November 12, 2007 @09:17AM (#21322237)
    I'd volunteer to give up a hand/appendage, if i could have it replaced with a USB cable that acts as a keyboard/mouse! That would be awesome :)
    • In all seriousness, it wouldn't be necessarily something you would have to do to get a keyboard/mouse interface with the brain. The brain has been shown to be very adaptable and you could probaly keep your own appendages and still have the ability to interface with the computer.

      Of course, I'd donate a kidney (or two) to be the first to have this done.
  • Ok folks, this is really serious. All the posts I have read so far are wannabe aha ha's ! Just to prove how debilitating losing an arm is, try doing something with your left hand (if you are right handed) or vice versa. A$$hats.
    • by aussie_a ( 778472 ) on Monday November 12, 2007 @09:31AM (#21322347) Journal
      I'm ambidextrous you insensitive clod!
    • I'm right handed, but mouse with my left to avoid carpal-tunnel whatchamacallit.

      Laugh, they were jokes. I don't think the guy making the crack about trading his arm for a USB cable really meant it.
      • by foobsr ( 693224 )
        to avoid carpal-tunnel

        Only recently recommended [] to use two mice to avoid problems. Sounds like a good idea, which I did not implement yet, though.

        • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

          by butterwise ( 862336 )

          Only recently recommended to use two mice to avoid problems.
          I've been doing that for years. The only drawback is the proboscular hunting and pecking.
    • by aug24 ( 38229 )
      Lighten the fuck up.

      Lots of geeks here, very few neurosurgeons. So on the whole the informed comment ratio is going to be way, way down on this article. Doesn't mean people don't take limb loss seriously for a nano-second.

      PS Just read your sig. Don't you think that could be offensive? Got the idea yet?
  • This news will help me replace the arm and leg I lost to a failed attempt at resurrecting my mother.
  • by xristo70 ( 1184699 ) on Monday November 12, 2007 @09:28AM (#21322321) Homepage
    Obviously I'm not a neurosurgeon. I look forward to posts from the experts.

    But what is the difference between the electrical signals from the nerves and those given off by contracting muscles? Since the nerves which carry the signals are known, why can't those nerve signals be read straight away? Is it a case of much easier signal patterns to identify with the electrical signals of muscles or just a question of signal strength or something much more complicated?

    Interesting as well that they should say that when the muscles are touched, for the patient is seems like the prosthetic arm is touched. Too bad they don't mention the perceived sensitivity to temperature and pressure with this effect. Put sensors on the tip of the hand and a little device on his chest and you might give the patient movement and "feeling" as well.
    • by WarlockD ( 623872 ) on Monday November 12, 2007 @09:41AM (#21322423)
      From what I understand, the communication with nerves not only have to be bi-directional but also we arn't sure what other signals are sent (chemical, etc). We can detect the messages to muscles as those are VERY simple and only require small electrical detectors. Decoding a straight nerve seems still seems beyond our reach.

      Mind you, this is much better than before. Previous robotic arms are built this same way, but it takes months and months of training to use your chest muscles to move your arm. Now it looks like you don't need that much therapy since they rout your arm nerves to your chest.

      PS - I am no expert, I just looked into it a bit ago when I met someone with a claw hand.
      • by Alrua ( 704865 ) on Monday November 12, 2007 @10:03AM (#21322615)

        There is some research being done into bidirectional prosthetics. Kevin Warwick from Reading University in the UK has successfully implanted a chip in his own arm allowing him to control an external robotic arm and receive sensory input from it.

        Some of Warwick's work is pretty controversial (see e.g. various articles from The Register []), but he does do some solid research.

        Wikipedia has more details []

      • Peter Pan, is that you?

        Decoding the signals from nerves does sound very interesting though, I wonder what parity settings they use? :p
      • To clarify, figuring out how the nerves convey messages to the muscles (and ignoring other means of communication as the parent pointed out) is kind of like sticking a bunch of oscilloscope probes onto a moderately complex breadboard and figuring out how it works from what we see on the scopes. Bear in mind that the circuit is analogue. And we're not quite sure where the nodes are. And we can't actually see the circuit at all.

        Is the information frequency coded? Pulse coded? Phase coded? Some combinati
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by cortex ( 168860 )
      The signals in the nerve can be detected directly, but the are very small, and it is harder to get a micro-electrode array in the nerve. The muscle acts like a bio-amplifier, so that the small impulses from the nerve are measured as larger electro-myographic signals (EMG). I am a neural engineer on f the team at the Univ. of Utah that is working on using the signals in the nerve directly. We can already decode the movement signals from the nerve directly and are investigating how to provide sensory feedb
    • by jellie ( 949898 )
      I'm not quite sure, but I think that electrical signals from the nerves are much more difficult to record due to the size of the nerves. An EMG, for example, is relatively easy if you stick an electrode into any part of the target muscle.

      I'm not really sure about the patient "feeling" the arm; there should be a lot in the literature about patients who think they can feel sensation through their implant, but it's often because of the other nerves around the implant or prosthetic, and not the implant itself.

    • by spineboy ( 22918 ) on Monday November 12, 2007 @02:46PM (#21326187) Journal
      The nerves in the body are usually buried somewhat deep, and are insulated usually by a layer of fat, and by their insulation(fatty Schwann cells). Since the nerves innervate the muscles, the signal becomes amplified, thus making it much easier to pick up the signal (stronger, and just under the skin, not insulated).

      Another reason is that many different nerve fibers run together in a nerve, especially up in the brachial plexus (shoulder are). If this prosthesis is meant for people who have lost their are high up, then the nerves in this location, are somewhat big (between a pencil and strand of linguinni thickness), and contain many different fibers. There are about 30 different muscles in the forearm/hand, and another 20 in the shoulder and arm (and don't forget all the sensory fibers too). It might be just too hard to pick out usable signals from that mess, If some of the fibers are re-routed to a superficial muscle (chest wall pectoralis major), then it's much easier for the person to choose discrete movements, and have control over the prosthesis.

      I am an orthopaedic surgeon, so I'm just posting this part to squelch any criticism about the facts above.
  • by damburger ( 981828 ) on Monday November 12, 2007 @09:33AM (#21322363)
    The war in Iraq has created a 'market' for prostetic limbs. Given that the latest and most advanced of these are being tested on such veterans, do you think anyone is considering fielding combat cyborgs any time in the future? Go to Iraq, get an arm blown off, go back 6 months later with a submachine gun for a hand...
    • Current prosthetic legs are already getting good enough that they're considering this. Specialised state of the art prosthetics are pretty good - Some people claim runners' legs actually give one legged athletes an advantage.
    • Go to Iraq, get an arm blown off, go back 6 months later with a submachine gun for a hand...

      Square Enix would sue [].

    • The war in Iraq has created a 'market' for prostetic limbs. Given that the latest and most advanced of these are being tested on such veterans, do you think anyone is considering fielding combat cyborgs any time in the future? Go to Iraq, get an arm blown off, go back 6 months later with a submachine gun for a hand...

      Been watching too much scifi, fellow geek? :)

      Actually, they already have guys going back into the military with the current prosthetics. There was one guy missing a foot who's even back in combat.

      The way I see it, we're probably not going to be seeing ginchy-keen combat prosthetics like in scifi, your submachinegun hand for example. The person will have a limb that's tough, durable, fit for the civilian world, and can also hold a weapon. Right now, a cyborg would be at a disadvantage versus an intact oppon

    • Go to Iraq, get an arm blown off, go back 6 months later with a submachine gun for a hand...

      Certain brands of sci-fi are fond of this (and others--anybody else remember Kujiranami Hyougo, who did this bit in Rurouni Kenshin?), but in fact it's not gonna happen in real life. A gun for a hand is terribly limiting--all you can do is shoot people with it. A reasonable facsimile of an actual hand is vastly more versatile. Wnat to shoot somebody? Pick up a gun and shoot him. Or pick up a hammer and drive a n

  • I didn't have my glasses on and thought it said "Thought Controlled Prostitutes". Oh, well.
    • Its still possible. Just chop off his/her legs and arms and install these prosthetics connected to a wifi connection instead of her/his brain.
      • by dintech ( 998802 )
        I hope you can understand why it's wrong to do something like that. But... if you're going to do it anyway can you also make me a miniature horse with it's back legs replaced by wheels?
  • Wiggle... your big... toe...
  • When I hear thought controlled prosthetics I think of Red Dwarf where Lister get a prosthetic arm, which is controlled by his subconscious. He has to *really* want to move it, but however much he thinks he wants to pick up the ball all he really wants to do is punch Kryton in the face.
  • Covered on Radio (Score:2, Informative)

    by phcrack ( 207416 )
    Quirks and Quarks [] covered this a couple of weeks ago in a pretty good interview. You can find the show here [] (in mp3 and ogg =).
  • I'm not seeing the obvious "Thought Controled Artificial Penis" jokes yet. Just think how embarrassing it would be to have something like that activating around your friend's hot mom/wife/sister, at work, in the grocery line...
    • by celle ( 906675 )
      As long as she cares and he's not around what difference does it make? Tally ho!! Time to soothe them thoughts.
    • In that case, there is a simple solution to prevent any embarrassing moments ever again... an on\off switch!
    • This brings to mind another Red Dwarf episode, the one where Kryten gets a prosthetic penis. Unfortunately it gets away from him, setting up the joke "My penis has a mind of its own!"
  • Feedback (Score:2, Interesting)

    by RicardoRT ( 1187937 )
    Simple motions of a prosthetic device can be accomplished with this approach, but they will always rely on visual feedback. The problem is that it is too slow for more complicated movements, such as delicately grabbing objects of different stiffnesses. As long as no proprioceptive feedback is given to the brain, electromechanical prosthetics will remain cumbersome.
  • ... prosthetics control your thoughts!
  • But they forgot the "cyborg" tag in the article. Read Ray Kurzwiel's "Age of spiritual machines", it's very cool, and talks about the social implications of our technological progress.
  • For an 80gig drive in my head. Assuming it has overload protection and I can double it later.
  • Kryten: Hand, Pickup the ball.

    Lister: Hand... Pick Up the Ball.

    Kryten: Now try again Mr. Lister you're doing great.

    Lister: Hand..... PICK UP THE ..... BALL

    (Lister Hits Kryten with his new mechanical arm)

    Kryten: Hand, Pick up the Ball, not Hand beat Kryten Senseless.

  •'s more than good enough to strangle that bastard Pailsen!

    (OK, will anybody at all get this one??)
  • "Shock the Monkey" might make a handy comeback... Call it the "ShoThMo Model 1". Why, with the things we could create, and append to the body, it might give a new meaning to "bi-onics"...
  • I can see it now ...

    hnad, tyep psot on Slasdoth.
    hnad, teyp tosp no lSadhost.
    Dear aunt, let's set so double the killer delete select all ...
  • Once Again, just another step towards "Ghost in the Shell" style of prosthetics.
  • i propose the term Psionics for mind controlled machines (attached or not). Avionics are electronics for aviation, psionics could be electronics related to the brain. Given that only D&D nerds would know of the word having any other use, we could replace the awkward phrases "mind controlled" and "mind machine interface".

BLISS is ignorance.