Next Media - Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center have published a study in the Lancet that explains how a paralyzed woman has been able to control a robot arm with her mind. The 52-year-old woman, Jan Scheuermann, was diagnosed with a degenerative brain disorder 13 years ago called tetraplegia resulting in paralysis from the neck down. She is now able to command a robotic arm through a computer that translates her brain activities. This animation illustrates the concept of this study.
Researchers implanted two 96-channel intracortical microelectrodes, each measuring 4mm wide, into Jan’s left motor cortex - the part of the brain that initiates movement. The two microelectrodes are able to pick up electrical activity from about 200 individual brain cells. The electrical activity is then sent to a computer, which translates the brain activity into a command that moves the robotic arm.
To sync up this relationship, Jan’s brain activity must first be recorded. Researchers asked Jan to watch the robotic arm as it performed various tasks, then asked Jan to imagine herself doing these same tasks, in the same movements. Through this, researchers were able to identify the parts of the brain that light up according to each command given.
Jan was able to move the robotic arm after two days, but the complete training took weeks. Jan and the robotic arm completed tasks such as picking up objects, orientating and moving the objects into a target position.