The Weekly Geek: Bionic Limbs


As geeks, we all love technology for what it can do for videogames, mobile devices and video streaming – but we also like to see tech used for undisputed good in the world as well. Call it a superhero complex. So consider this bit of news coming from Wired Science as a breakthrough in superheroic tech – a paralyzed woman is able to control a robotic arm using only her mind. The miraculous kit is called the BrainGate system, and the new breakthrough is nothing short of amazing.

It all started with monkeys, according to the post:

After years of experiments on monkeys, surgeons implanted the 100-electrode sensor in a human volunteer’s motor cortex in 2004. The volunteer, a 25-year-old man named Matt Nagle, was paralyzed from the neck down. Nobody knew if the part of his brain that once controlled voluntary physical motion could still generate intelligible signals.

But when Nagle moved a computer cursor by thinking, it was apparent his motor neurons still worked. Since then, paralyzed people have used BrainGate to open and close a robotic hand. Other research teams found that monkeys with brain implants can feel with a virtual arm and feed themselves snacks with a real robotic arm.

The female subject who can make coffee has had her implant for five years, and she’s showing an unprecedented level of progress with the system.

The implications of this are tremendous.

Eventually the researchers hope to make the system smaller, wireless and stable enough that people with brain injuries and physical disorders can use it around the clock to control devices and communicate. Participants currently operate the arm in their homes, but technicians always calibrate it in advance.

Hochberg said his dream, still many years away on the horizon, is not only for paralyzed people to use BrainGate to control devices, but to reroute neural signals back into their limbs, allowing them to again control their bodies.

You can dream bigger than that, folks. What about bionic limbs? It may be far off, but research like this proves the possibility.

As long as it’s used for good, and not, say beating the snot out of Mortal Kombat-ants. On second thought, that would be fine – Jax was actually pretty awesome.

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