On April 12, 2011, something extraordinary happened. A 58-year-old woman that was paralyzed from the neck down reached for a bottle of coffee, drank from a straw and put the bottle back on the table. But she didn’t reach with her own hand – she controlled a robotic arm with her mind. Uneblievable? It is. But decades of research made the unbelievable possible. Watch this exceptional and moving moment in history here (click on picture for Youtube video).
The 58-year-old women (patient S3) was part of the BrainGate2 project, a collaboration of researchers at the Department of Veterans Affairs, Brown University, German Aerospace Center (DLR) and others. The scientists implanted a small chip containing 96 electrodes into her motor cortex. This part of the brain is responsible for voluntary movement. The chip measures the electrical activity of the brain and an external computer translates this pattern into the movement of a robotic arm. A brain-computer interface. And it’s not science-fiction, it’s science.
During the study the woman was able to grasp items during the allotted time with a 70 % success rate. Another participant (patient T2) even managed to achieve a 96 % success rate. Besides moving robotic arms, the participants also were given the task to spell out words and sentences by indicating letters via eye movement. Participant T2 spelt out this sentence: “I just imagined moving my own arm and the [robotic] arm moved where I wanted it to go”.
The future is exciting.