Watch a man walk and kick a football with direct signals from his brain
There isn’t much physical power in a thought to move inanimate objects – unless the object is a robotic leg wired to your brain, that is. A 32-year-old man whose knee and lower were amputated in 2009 after a motorcycle accident is evidently the first person with a missing lower limb to control a robotic leg with his mind. Levi Hargrove at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago in Illinois leads a team that reported the breakthrough last week in the New England Journal of Medicine, including a video that shows the man using a bionic leg to walk up stairs and down a ramp to kick a football.
Yes we have seen all this before, but what is not being noticed initially is that the major advance is that the man does not have to use a remote-control switch or exaggerated muscle movements to tell the robotic leg to switch between types of movements, and he does not have to reposition the leg with his hands when seated, Hargrove states.
“To our knowledge this is the first time that neural signals have been used to control both a motorized knee and ankle prosthesis”, he says.
Previously scientists showed that paralyzed people could move robotic arms using their thoughts and that able bodied people can walk using robotic legs controlled by their brains. The latest step goes further by using muscle signals to amplify messages sent by the brain when the person intends to move.
To accomplish this, surgeons redirected the nerves that previously controlled some of the man’s lower-leg muscles so that they would cause muscled in his thigh to contract in a technique called targeted muscle re-innervation.