Mind-controlled bionic arm goes for test drive

The prosthetic works in tandem with transplanted healthy nerves that prompt electrical impulses from the brain to reach muscles in the chest.

Christian Kandlbauer
Surgeons at Vienna General Hospital transplanted the nerves that previously controlled Christian Kandlbauer's healthy arm to his chest muscles. The nerves prompt electrical impulses from the brain to reach the muscles in the chest, and this gets interpreted to actual movement. Otto Bock HealthCare

If you've watched the movie "The Men Who Stare at Goats," you'd know it's all about covert efforts by the military to develop mind control. Well, good luck to them. However, it may be a bit premature to write off mind control as so much paranormal "X-File"-ish diddle-dee-doo, considering that Germany-based Otto Bock HealthCare has just done the seemingly impossible with a mind-controlled robotic arm.

The limb in question is attached to 21-year-old Christian Kandlbauer, an Austrian man who lost both his arms four years ago after being electrocuted by a whopping 20,000 volts.

The prosthetic, which took an equal number of years to develop, works in tandem with a new technique called targeted muscle reinnervation, in which surgically transplanted nerves prompt electrical impulses from the brain to reach electrodes on the surface of the chest. This communication then gets interpreted by a micro-computer into actual movement.

The result is nothing short of amazing since this means prosthetic limbs in the future will be able to respond in real time to whatever you're thinking, just like the real deal. As proof of the arm's capabilities, Kandlbauer has been field-testing the system by driving around in a car with his mind-controlled left "arm" (his right is fitted with a conventional prosthetic). The feat makes him possibly the world's first person in such a unique situation.

The good news is the technology is more than ready to leave the labs for commercial use. The bad news is such a procedure will cost a pretty penny. Then again, what price independence when it's your limb on the line?

Related stories:
Bionic hand can bear 200-pound loads
Bionic fingers give amputees upper hand
Hydraulic hand promises Hulk handshakes

(Source: Crave Asia via BBC News)

 

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