Man controls cybernetic hand with thoughts

Thanks to $3 million European project, a cybernetic limb gives a 26-year-old amputee hope of feeling pain, flipping you off.

An undated photo from the Campus Bio-Medico di Roma shows Pierpaolo Petruzziello's amputated hand linked with electrodes to a robotic hand. Campus Bio-Medico di Roma

European scientists have successfully built a brain-controlled bionic hand that could be used to kill or maim hundreds of humans in the coming robot versus humans' civil war. Or, far more admirably, allow amputees to feel hand sensations and manipulate their limb--via the brain--as if it were still there.

Pierpaolo Petruzziello--who lost his arm under the elbow in a car crash several years ago--has done just that, Italy's University Campus Bio-Medico of Rome announced Wednesday.

Bionic hand
Campus Bio-Medico di Roma

The biometric hand was developed at Pisa's Valdera Polo Sant'Anna School and surgically attached to Petruzziello's nervous system via electrodes implanted into the remaining part of his left arm, meaning the robotic body part was actually like an extension of his body. After the surgery at the University Campus Bio-Medico of Rome in November 2008, it took Petruzziello just days to start using the device.

During the LifeHand trial, which lasted a month, Petruzziello, 26, was able to experience sensations when grasping, making a fist, and apparently flipping the bird. No really. (There's nothing science can't do.)

The responses from the hand to commands sent from the brain were 95 percent correct, Paolo Maria Rossini, head of neurology for the project, said Wednesday. That's more than I can say for some of the people I know.

The next step, which is still at least a couple of years away, is to work out a more long-term experiment that would hopefully lead to cybernetic arms like the LifeHand as a viable option for amputees. The EU has spent $3 million and five years on the project so far, but in the end, if the experiments prove successful, we may be living with people with Luke Skywalker-style arms in just a few short years. I will outfit mine with a place to hide my flask.

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