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The Mind-Controlled Bionic Arm With a Sense of Touch


so now I’m gonna go turn on the arm can go up okay and back down this is the most complex robotic arm in existence today you can control that using thought from the brain as humans we are tool users and every time we invent a new tool that changes the way we live outside of Baltimore Maryland the Applied Physics Laboratory a branch of Johns Hopkins University is an unlikely incubator for robotics that are pushing the limits of human machine interfaces thanks in part to a DARPA program started in 2005 engineers have developed the modular prosthetic limb a bionic arm that responds to human thought creating a new generation of robotics that can seamlessly integrate with our bodies this technology is still relatively new and the effects that robotic bodies will have on our future are already raising serious social and ethical questions there’s a lot of interest in how this is affecting the way we evolve where’s this all go in the future you know I think we’re just at the beginning it could be tremendous scientists are trying to bridge the gap but it’s the patience that will push the limits of this technology forward we went to Baltimore to meet with Melissa Loomis an apt from Ohio who’s visiting the lab to be outfitted with the bionic limb for the first time thanks to a groundbreaking surgery called sensory reinnervation that remapped her nerves responsible for touch melissa is one of the first amputees in the world to be able to feel through a robotic prosthetic so can you walk us through what took place on a day of your accident it was six o’clock on a Saturday morning on July 25th I got up to let my dogs out heard horrible noise went outside and the dogs had a raccoon cornered on the top of the fence and then they both kind of went in for the kill and I went to grab the dogs off of the raccoon and the raccoon grabbed on to my forearm so I grabbed it and threw it over the fence I had gotten bitten on my forearm and I was just kind of standing there bleeding so I went straight to the hospital I said you’re you’re now gonna be referred to dr. Seth he’s our hand specialist and he said you’ve never seen such a terrible infection it just kept getting worse and worse so I went septic and I said I’m going to take your arm or you’re gonna die this right here is my muscles in tendon and that was the top of my arm 29 days and 13 surgeries later I had my army amputated to get up in the morning get a shower and brush your teeth and get ready for work you know whereas it was a 15-minute process before my accident now it’s a half an hour process I can’t just go home and make dinner by myself without help opening cans or lifting pots buttoning button zipping zippers little things that you never think about I hope to just use my robotic arm just like I use my regular arm and just go about my business as a normal tool arm person just behind me is the Applied Physics Laboratory at Johns Hopkins University where we’re meeting the chief engineer dr. mike mclaughlin and his team they’re working on neural prosthetics that are controlled by the mind this is completely revolutionising how human beings interact with machines so this was a program started by DARPA the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and the whole purpose was really to move prosthetics to a whole new level the keel this is Robo Sally Robo Sally has two of the prosthetic limbs this arm can do basically everything you can do with your hand the modular prosthetic limb or MPL interprets and converts signals from the body’s nervous system to motion when the MPL interacts with an object signals from over 100 sensors send information back to the brain creating a sense of touch these are very expensive this limb costs hundreds of thousands of dollars but the end of the day we really want to get this out so people can use it in everyday life so what’s unique about melissa is that we’ll be able to actually feed back to her sensory information at a level that we haven’t been able to do before that is really going to move this to your entirely new level so you’ve been quoted saying that melissa is a very special case a very rare you explained yeah we ended up doing a surgery it’s called targeted muscle reinnervation is a type of surgery that allows any amputee to use their brain to operate the Bionic or prosthetic arm if she wants to open her hand she just thinks open my hand now the part that’s never been done here in the US was to try to get someone to feel their prosthetic hand the targeted sensory reinnervation if you have a prosthetic arm you can’t feel you can’t hold somebody’s hand and feel that touch and so what I ended up doing was finding the nerve that gives you feeling and I took that basically attached it to her skin here and here and the idea is that if that nerve gives you feeling here her brain will think that her fingers are actually here because of her surgery the quality of sensory signals melissa receives are better than anything tested before with the Bionic limb we accompanied Melissa as she used the prosthetic limb for the first time ready basically they just put sensors around my arm that could read my muscle patterns and then I would do the movements with my imaginary arm and the machine would recognize the muscle patterns and then the arm would do those motions afterwards bloom may move in a weird way and that’s okay because it’s the first time it’s hearing those muscle patterns will do elbow up and down nice the arm learns how to understand what you want to do as opposed to you learning how to control the arm it’s a very fundamental difference of what we’re trying to do here so the next one one try is the UM the hand close and relaxed so when you first use the modular prosthetic limb how did it feel to control it with your mind you know you control your hand with your mind naturally so to me I feel like I have a hand and I’m just moving it naturally just try the thumb let’s go ahead and try to do a tip grasp very nice I mean these are really fine movements to be able to pick up those individual movements is pretty amazing so this is thumb okay so the thumb is read they put the sensors on where the nerves are re-intubated into the skin if you put little spots where you can feel the fingers tank-like here my thumb tingle each individual finger has its own kind of little spot all right I’m gonna buzz it let me know if it’s uncomfortable or feel it yeah when they vibrated I would just say this is this finger and we just went through all the fingers is there a perception of where the vibration is coming from you can’t localize it does just feel like it’s coming all through the phantom does it ever feel like it’s actually on your upper arm now it’s all con comes a hand yeah it’s huge that it’s coming from your phantom not sort of on your arm ever so is greater yeah right no one’s ever seen this before okay here we go are you ready yep this is it yeah you can feel yeah yeah all right ready close your eyes oh right there yeah all right so see if you can tell when you’ve actually gotten this so just close slowly got it got it got it okay and open that’s awesome Melissa your case is very special cause you’re able to feel so can you walk us through how to felt using the prosthetic limb good cuz I mean I wanted that’s the thing I missed the most it felt like tingling in my fingers when I would grabbed onto the ball it was like vibrate like sometimes I’d be like oh wow that was like a jolt up your finger and you were the first in the country to have this correct it’s just incredible yeah got it good we nailed it we showed that you can feel and you can move a prosthetic and I felt the orange ball wow this is huge I’m gonna be a Bionic Woman okay watching the list interface with the machine to regain capability she thought she lost was incredible but being Bionic raises a new question can a bionic arm outclass a human one people frequently draw comparisons to the Terminator and you know our arm can curl 45 pounds no it’s not gonna pick up a bus while even the most advanced prosthetic is no replacement for a flesh-and-blood limb as the technology progresses we’re likely to progress with it neural prosthetics are still in their infancy and limited mostly to medical use but what happens when these technologies become more advanced smarter stronger will other people want them policymakers have already started to bring up the issue that as humans become more mechanical our laws will have to evolve to reflect how we look at privacy access and domain over our own bodies there’s certainly lots of ethics questions going around about robot eggs you can hack into those devices people shown you can hack into cars and have them do things you don’t want them to do I really believe that in the end you know we’ll be able to deal with those kinds of things the manatee has so much to gain here so yes I think all these technologies will will change us but I don’t think that’s a bad thing you

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