Life Science Innovations in Thought-controlled Prosthetic Limbs

Wearable Tech Fad

New University of Houston research has demonstrated that an amputee can grasp with a bionic hand, powered only by his thoughts.
Credit: University of Houston

Thought-controlled prosthetic limbs have been around for a few years. Traditionally, these bionic parts have required brain implants or osseointegration (bone-anchoring) to control. Since surgery, particularly neurosurgery, is risky, a group of life sciences researchers at the University of Houston (UH) are developing a non-invasive device to control a prosthetic hand. The device attaches EEG electrodes to the scalp and the person wearing the device simply thinks about hand movements and the hand responds.

To develop the algorithm necessary to control the hand, a group of volunteers were recruited to capture brain activity while they performed tasks such as grasping a soft drink can and other objects. Once the data was collected, the researchers wrote the software and then attached the device to a man who had his right hand amputated and had a prosthetic attached. He was able to perform grasping tasks 80 percent of the time using the non-invasive device. A delay of 50 to 90 milliseconds occurred between thinking about grasping and the device’s response.

The experiments have led to insights into how the brain behaves when it orders a part of the human body to perform a task. The results could lead to refinements in the rehabilitation of stroke and spinal cord injury patients.

In the meantime, the UH researchers are confident that given improvements to the software and more practice by amputees, the success rate will rise to nearly 100 percent.

This and many more innovations in prosthetics leap us even closer to completely replacing missing limbs as depicted in television’s The Six Million Dollar Man.

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