Paralyzed Man Feeds Himself For The First Time In 30 Years, Using Robotic Arms | “Many Challenges Still Lie Ahead”

Paralyzed Man Feeds Himself For The First Time In 30 Years, Using Robotic Arms | “Many Challenges Still Lie Ahead”

The robotic arms are connected to his brain through a brain-machine interface.

Recently, a man who is partially paralyzed was able to feed himself for the first time in decades, with the help of customized robotic arms. The arms are connected to his brain through a brain-machine interface, per PEOPLE.

Researchers at Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory created a two-arm device that allowed a man who hasn't been able to move his fingers in 30 years to cut and transport food to his lips. The man, who had been unable to use his fingers for nearly three decades, was able to consume dessert using his thoughts in less than 90 seconds, reports The Independent.




Dr. Francesco Tenore, a senior project manager in APL’s Research and Exploratory Development department said, "Although our results are preliminary, we are excited about giving users with limited capability a true sense of control over increasingly intelligent assistive machine." The findings were reported in the journal, Frontiers in Neurorobotics.

Brain-computer interfaces, also known as brain-machine interfaces, have advanced quickly in recent years. The technology has the potential to alter the lives of paralyzed persons as well as those affected by neurological illnesses, in the near future. They exist in a range of shapes and sizes, from brain implants to external sensors, but they all operate by decoding cerebral impulses and converting them into external tasks like moving the cursor of a computer mouse or commanding a robot.



The Johns Hopkins scientists employed two arrays of 96 channels and two arrays of 32 channels to operate the robotic arm, which is a minimal quantity when compared to other brain-computer interfaces being developed. Elon Musk's Neuralink firm creates devices with thousands of channels, with the tech tycoon expecting to one day enable humans to compete with sophisticated forms of artificial intelligence.

"This research is a great example of this philosophy where we knew we had all the tools to demonstrate this complex bimanual activity of daily living that non-disabled people take for granted," Dr. Tenore said. "Many challenges still lie ahead, including improved task execution, in terms of both accuracy and timing, and closed-loop control without the constant need for visual feedback." 

The Johns Hopkins team is already hard at work on the next version of the device, which might allow amputees to translate their sentiments about a phantom limb into real-world movements of a robotic replacement.




Representative Cover Image Source: Getty Images/Michael H