Using electronics and artificial intelligence (AI), a research team at the University of Minnesota has made mind reading possible. Amputees who cannot use their muscles to control a robotic arm can now do so thanks to a device developed by researchers at the University of Minnesota.
This is more accurate and less invasive than previous techniques, the team said.
Robotic Arms: Electronic Devices That Read Human Minds
Currently, most commercially available prostheses are operated from the shoulder or chest with a cable and harness system. The natural limb above the prosthesis worn by the patient is monitored by sensors in more advanced models. However, both techniques are difficult for amputees to learn to use and are sometimes useless.
The University of Minnesota's Department of Biomedical Engineering, with assistance from commercial partners, has created a small implantable device that connects to peripheral nerves in a person's arm. When combined with a robotic arm and an artificial intelligence computer, the device can detect and analyze brain impulses, allowing upper-limb amputees to operate the arm using only their thoughts.
The researchers' recent study was published in the Journal of Neural Engineering, which focuses on the multidisciplinary topic of neural engineering.
It is far more intuitive than any trading system in existence. With previous commercial prosthetic systems, amputees don't really think about moving their fingers when needed. Once the system detects arm muscles, they try to contract those muscles.
Therefore, these systems require a lot of training and practice. Because we use our technology to read nerve signals instantly, it knows the patient's goals. All they need to do is move their fingers.
Jules Anh Tuan Nguyen, a biomedical engineering researcher at the University of Minnesota, said.
Nguyen conducted the research with Ji Yang, an associate professor in the same university's Department of Biomedical Engineering, for about a decade. Nguyen was a key figure in creating the neuron-on-a-chip technology.
DARPA funds technology development program to help amputees
In 2012, Edward Keefer, a commercial neuroscientist and CEO of Nerves, Incorporated, approached Yang about developing a neural implant that could help amputees. After receiving funding from the U.S. government's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the pair successfully completed numerous clinical trials with actual amputees.
To commercialize the technology, the researchers also partnered with the University of Minnesota's Technology Commercialization Unit to create a company called Fasikl, a rendition of the word "fasikl," which describes a bundle of nerve fibers.
Nguyen said it is critical that there is a business community behind the technology so that it can leave the necessary impact on real people and ultimately improve the lives of patients.
Creating new technology is exciting, but if you're just doing research in the lab, no one's really going to be affected. To that end, we hope to participate in clinical research at the University of Minnesota. I have had the privilege of working with multiple human patients over the past three or four years. I get very emotional when I'm able to help someone move their finger or do something they thought was impossible before.
This is another step in allocating technological development to human health services. Bringing robots closer to people with disabilities.