University of Minnesota engineers have built a robotic arm system that amputees can control with their mind. This minimally invasive technology essentially lets them move a robotic arm using brain signals instead of muscles, thanks to a small, implantable device that attaches to the peripheral nerve in a person’s arm.
Unlike similar systems, this one incorporates artificial intelligence, which uses machine learning to help interpret the signals from the nerve. This means that it not only benefits amputees, but also other patients who suffer from neurological disorders and chronic pain. Eventually, the engineers hope that this technology can replace invasive brain surgeries since its signals can be accessed directly through the peripheral nerve. The system currently needs wires that come through the skin to connect to the exterior AI interface and robotic arm, but in the future, it may be able to connect remotely to any computer. Pair this with Kernel’s brain-computer helmet, and you’re well on your way to becoming a cyborg.
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It’s a lot more intuitive than any commercial system out there. With other commercial prosthetic systems, when amputees want to move a finger, they don’t actually think about moving a finger. They’re trying to activate the muscles in their arm, since that’s what the system reads. Our technology knows the patient’s intention. If they want to move a finger, all they have to do is think about moving that finger,” said Jules Anh Tuan Nguyen, a postdoctoral researcher and UMN College of Science and Engineering alumnus.