Give Me a Hand

Give Me a Hand

☼ A quadriplegic woman, paralyzed from the neck down from a neurodegenerative disorder, was able to feed herself chocolate and give high-fives thanks to the most sophisticated prosthetic arm yet, with 7 degrees of freedom. Within the second day of training, she was able to perform basic tasks, with a 92% success rate of controlling the robotic arm. This study is the first to demonstrate feasibility of human brain implants to control an external device .

Brain-Machine Interfaces convert brain signals into movement. The researchers first mapped the signals generated in the patient’s brain when she thought of moving her arm and programmed the response of the prosthetic arm accordingly. Two small computer 4mm chips were implanted into the patient’s left motor cortex. The chips were 96 channel microchips designed to detect and record small electrical potentials that motor cortex brain cells produce when executing a movement. “The result is a prosthetic hand, which can be moved far more accurately and naturalistically than previous efforts.”

Future Scenarios include tactile feedback using sensors to feed into the patient’s sensory cortex, wireless communication, and possibly activation of the patient’s own muscles with implants.

Story and Video

Original paper


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67 Responses to Give Me a Hand

  1. Kim Sinclair says:

    That is so cool! How exciting it must have been for that woman! Wow!

  2. Rajini Rao says:

    What is so cool is that she heard of this study from a friend and took a chance in contacting the researchers of her own initiative, saying “Sign me up!”. 

  3. Kim Sinclair says:

    Yes, I just read that. Fantastic! Thanks for sharing Rajini! 🙂

    We need some good news among the bad of late! 🙂

  4. Arnav Kalra says:

    Woot, wowsome. Now, this is the future.

  5. Rajini Rao says:

    What’s nice is that robots can be made amazingly life like now, as seen in Vassil Vidinsky ‘s recent post

    This means that the prosthetic arm could be made life-like in appearance as well as function.

  6. Arnav Kalra says:

    Rajini Rao the requested url couldn’t be found. 😦

    If true, this is a very good news.

  7. We live in amazing times….

  8. Marta Rauch says:

    Rajini Rao Awesome!

  9. Rajini Rao says:

    Arnav Kalra , you mean the pdf link? I’m not sure that’s a legal link, really. But I found it here:

    Scroll down to the end, and click the link “Full Text Reference”. Let me know if it works.

  10. Arnav Kalra says:

    Rajini Rao your comment. The post you mentioned above my comment. Btw the pdf link works. 

  11. René Riech says:

    “Oh… ah… that’s good, like a real hand!”

    Howard Wolowitz

  12. E.E. Giorgi says:

    wow, this is really awesome!

  13. Rajini Rao says:

    Arnav Kalra , it’s a public post that got on What’s Hot. Here is the long link:

  14. Arnav Kalra says:

    That post couldn’t be found. The app sends it to browser and it says that the post cannot be found.

  15. René Riech says:

    I wonder how far this will go, very impressive work.

  16. Rajini Rao says:

    Arnav Kalra , maybe a problem with your app, or you may be blocked by the poster? Here is the direct link to the YouTube vid: A very human-like robot invented by Japanese engineers

    René Riech , the potential is impressive..I hope there are sufficient volunteers and funding to drive this technology.

  17. Arnav Kalra says:

    Rajini Rao not blocked, the browser (firefox) showed that error so it’s related to Google.

    The robots are really cool. Thanks for sharing. ^_^

  18. Rajini Rao says:

    Whew, good to know 🙂

  19. BCI/BMI is pretty amazing in what it can do in conjunction with other technologies. 

    In addition to that for anybody who is interested getting units to develop on is not that expensive.  So in addition to the academic work, there will probably be a great deal of home hacking with the technology in the coming years, whether it be robotics or other technologies. Which is probably going to move the technology along much faster. I have a few BCI units just for the purpose of home development myself.

  20. Rajini Rao says:

    I had not realized that the technology was that accessible, Christine Paluch ! Isn’t there a surgical procedure involved? Or do you use electrodes on the scalp?

  21. Mad B says:

    That was on CBC TV yesterday Rajini Rao The most amazing thing was that in 24H she was able to move the arm and less than 48H could do complex manoeuvres. The researchers thought it would take weeks. It was very impressive to see her grab a styrofoam? cup

    Detailed info  youtube

  22. Rajini Rao says:

    Thanks for the video links, Jose M. G. Guerreiro , and Madjid Boukri ! They are different videos by the way, well worth watching both. EDIT, the longer video explains the 7 degrees of freedom very well.

    A heartwarming story ❤

  23. Rajini Rao It is just electrodes on the heads. While more advanced technologies such as bionic limbs will require surgical implants, this is not needed to do most BCI development work even related robotics. Some of these BCI units run for around $100-$200.  Fairly advanced ones are under $1000.  Trust me there is a great deal of development work that happens with the inexpensive ones.  This is pretty readily available technology as long as people are not going for medical implantation. 

  24. Rajini Rao says:

    Thanks for that insight, I would not have guessed. This sort of technology is sophisticated enough that it appears too expensive or research intensive at first.

  25. Right now I’m mentally yelling “F-Yea! Awesome! Whooo!” This is so exciting!

  26. Rajini Rao  I have a pretty active interest in BCI in general.  It is without question research intensive to make things like this work with precision, and the robot arm is not cheap to build. This probably took hundreds, and possibly thousands of hours to make it work.  But much of that was probably in the software engineering itself. Which is really the biggest barrier for doing this sort of thing, making sure that the computer is interpreting the right signals from the BCI unit as intended, and that the calibration of the unit is  precise. But the basic tech to do this sort of thing is inexpensive enough that CS, Engineering, and Human Factors students (both graduate and undergrad) are doing BCI projects now. Maybe not this advanced, but some graduate projects and research is this advanced. This is not the first time this year somebody pulled this off. 

  27. Tom Lee says:

    Great reshared post, +Rajini Rao. These new innovations certainly enhance people’s quality of life. This device is an integration of biomedical, neurobiological, electronic, mechanical, computer engineering…know how. No wonder some universities, such as Stanford, are emphasizing in interdisciplinary teaching. This can be the new direction .

  28. Rajini Rao says:

    Tom Lee , biomedical engineering has been one of the most popular majors at the undergraduate level. Some schools, including JHU, have a completely separate admissions process to deal with applications. It’s an exciting time for the field. 

  29. Tom Lee says:

    Rajini Rao , backward looking, the day when I was in graduate school, computer engineering and computer science were the major of choice for most engineering students. Forward looking, I think interdisciplinary biomedical engineering would be the major of choice in most highly ranked engineering schools.

  30. Rajini Rao says:

    I agree, and it’s a good think too!

  31. Very interesting! Concerning the link Rajini Rao and Arnav Kalra were talking about, this should be the correct one:

    The other one is not working for me either (it seems it is reshared post by ScienceSunday).

  32. Rajini Rao says:

    Thanks for the correct link, Vassil Vidinsky . I was logged on as curator on the SciSun page at the time, so it makes sense. 

  33. DaFreak says:

    We’ve come a long way since Monkey’s brain controls robotic arm – prosthethic arms area really beginning to approach the real deal in terms of movement!

    It’s amazing to think of what we will be able to do with BCIs in the future… Instead of controlling your arm, you could be controlling a robot on the moon. Using stereoscopic virtual reality imaging to replace your vision with what the robot is seeing, sensory feedback to feel what it is feeling, headsets to hear what it is hearing, … This goes way beyond traditional control. In a sense you would become the robot.

    Not to mention we can now make our houses come to life just by thinking about them. Technology turning us into wizards. If Clarke were alive today I am sure he would be talking about how we are taking our magic to the next level. 😉

  34. Rajini Rao says:

    A fantastic vision for the future, I love how your mind works Koen De Paus . I thought of that monkey prosthetic arm study too, when I was writing this post. 

  35. Bill Carter says:

    I’ve met the medical and engineering team on this work – we were all part of an event earlier in the year hosted by Popular Mechanics.  I was brought to tears as I listened to Tim Hemmes, the patient in the earlier study, was able to control the arm, reach out, and take his daughter’s hand for the first time since his accident. Amazing achievement, and I’m glad they are also highlighting the courage of the patients who are participating.  Check out:

    Tim took a great the risk to go through the procedure – basically putting the only working part of his body (his brain) in jeopardy – in order to learn and operate the robotic arm. He had to work for an entire month to start controlling the arm, and then had to have the electrodes removed, only tasting the possibilities.

    (Self-serving plug: Our team’s accomplishment pales in comparison, but is on slide 9 of the same link)

  36. Rajini Rao says:

    William Carter , first of all, Congratulations on being included in the top ten innovation list. What an amazing accomplishment. I’m sure all of us on G+ would love to learn more about a metal mesh that is lighter than styrofoam peanuts and bouncy too. Do you have a video or more pictures of it. If you’ve written about this on G+, do leave the link here.

    Thanks for the link to Tim’s story. It’s good to have the inside story from people like you and Christine Paluch who actually work in related fields (I’m a biologist!).

    What struck me about the volunteers is that these devices are not yet FDA approved and now that they’ve had a taste of the possibilities, they have to go back to the way things were. That takes courage and must be so hard to cope with.

  37. Bill Carter says:

    Thanks Rajini Rao – I agree – their courage is immense. I spoke to TIm at some length. His biggest motivation was to advance the science so that someday someone would benefit. I would never have expected that – given his appearance (covered in tattoos, piercings) you would guess he’s not a serious sort of person.  Far from it.  Incredibly articulate, highly motivated, and very bright. I have a video somewhere – I’ll post it.  

    I found the ScienceSunday post on our little invention:

    inspiring in it’s own way, but not nearly as human as the prosthetics story above!

  38. Rajini Rao I actually am on a comparatively boring applications team for my day job, nothing so innovative. I only am a hobbyist with regards to BCI, this is part of what I do in my spare time outside of work, so my perspective is more on that end of things, more as a maker/hacker as supposed to a researcher, nothing quite as advanced as this. Though I would say it is an interesting path to go down in terms of development. 

  39. Rajini Rao says:

    William Carter , I remember the story and that image of a dandelion when it hit the news 🙂

    Christine Paluch , you should talk about your hobbies on a hangout with STEM Women on G+ some day!

  40. Rajini Rao there was a CNN or other reporter last year who visited the lab where he was given a demo of the chair. He himself could test it in few days of training…

    This is fascinating branch.

    I would love to work on comp-sci part of this sometime in future.

  41. Rajini Rao says:

    Such a wonderful marriage of biology and engineering, mandar khadilkar . The biomedical engineers at my institution take many of the same classes as medical students because they need a deep understanding of how the human body works so they can translate the engineering aspects of their work more effectively.

  42. Rajini Rao what is even more intriguing is if we consider these developments of converging branches to be next iteration of evolution. What I mean is, the evolution was very intra body. Now we enhance the brain and body extra body.

    Say, we connect the google like service to brain processing and integrate it. Then we will be just have our “thinking flow” automatically use this service as if it is part of the brain.

    Say a person looking at a shoe can directly finding out that the same shoe is 30% cheaper 5 miles away by just being close to his/her smartphone. Your smartphone can understand what you are thinking.

    I know this sounds crazy but I won’t be surprised if we get to this integration in next 10 years or less.

  43. feeling so glad to know about this.

  44. mahek abbas says:

    nice 2 see ur post after such a long time..

  45. Abak Hoben says:

    Great!! What comes next, Humanoids perhaps!!! 🙂

  46. This looks more beautiful to me than any exotic sports car.  And the even more fantastic thing is that there is amazing function to go with the form.  Thanks for sharing Rajini Rao  [[P.S. of course with chocolate as the reward, I wonder how fair the test really was…:) ]]

  47. Rajini Rao says:

    Both you and Koen De Paus have made similar remarks on the potential uses in a brave new world, Mark Bruce  🙂

    I will confess that I had not thought that far, but you do raise some exciting possibilities, perhaps in the not-so-distant future (if assuming we learn to allocate our resources for the betterment of humanity instead of on politics and war).

  48. DaFreak says:

    BCIs will definitely create a lot of waves. After the initial oooh, aaah & wow reactions, people will soon realize that this tech has a darker side as well. The first generation will be read only but would still be able to cause problems through personal errors or mistakes in software translation of given commands.

    The dangers of these situations would depend on what you are controlling. If you are playing with a toy such as those that allow you to make a ball float through a hoop, you are probably not in a lot of danger. On the other hand If you would happen to be controlling a massive robotic crane… Most of these dangers will probably be overcome by integrating more sensors and smarter software into various pieces of hardware. A robotic arm like the one found on Raytheon’s military exoskeleton could do a lot of harm but most likely it will come with a safety switch that will not allow the arm to make contact at bone crushing speeds with anything as long as the safety is on. Robot workers like ABBs FRIDA or Rethink’s Baxter already make use of such technologies to make sure they don’t injure any people working in their action radius so this should be easy to implement.

    Privacy is going to come under assault from this tech as well. We need to make sure that the communication between brain and machines is very well encrypted. Already the military is working on “telepathy”, which would allow soldiers to communicate subvocally. Many think it’s possible for algorithms to completely decode our senses and thinking. Not that long ago, researchers managed to tap into a man’s visual cortex and had an algorithm decode the signals into a coherent picture that matched what the man was actually seeing… It wasn’t perfect but you could clearly see that he was looking at a man and an elephant. Another example, a team of researchers managed to retrieve a man’s pincode for his bankcards straight from his brain. It’s easy to see that this technology could become more than a lie detector… It could become a truth detector.  

    However, things might get even more dangerous with second generation units that allow to both read and write. Already we have very rudimentary devices like the ones used in deep brain stimulation for Parkinson’s disease. These send out electrical signals to suppress the brain’s “normal” functioning or in the case of a parkinson patient, they suppress his or her tremors. All good and well but as this technology advances our brains will become more similar to hard drives and perceptible to outside interference. Dictatorial regimes might look at this as the ultimate brain washing machine that would allow them to mold their citizens into “perfect” shape.

    Another piece of news from recent history; someone demonstrated how to hack a pacemaker in real time. It’s just as easy to hack the implant of a parkinson patient and flood his brain with electrical signals. The hope is that as this tech advances, we will one day be able to activate and control each and every neuron in the brain individually and thus have ultimate control over our own brains. This is good because it would allow you to learn like they do in the matrix “I know Kung Fu” 😉 but at the same time it opens the door to a world very different from our own where what is real and what is not starts to blur together. When augmented reality breaks through, someone could hack your visual feed, your retina, your optical nerve or your visual cortex and alter what you are seeing in real time. They could make you kill yourself by “painting” a bridge where there is none.

    Some institutions are now beginning to think about security but perfect security doesn’t exist. I am afraid that we will come to “accept” a certain amount of annual deaths similar to how we “accept” traffic casualties. Hopefully this will be a transitional period that ends when we have everything nailed down. 40 years from now, we should have managed to reduce the amount of traffic casualties considerably through networking, sensors and smart software so hopefully BCIs will follow a similar downwards trend as we optimize personal security while retaining all the benefit and empowerment it brings.

  49. Rajini Rao says:

    We ought to have a ScienceSunday hangout on the topic of Brain Machine interfaces, what do you guys think? Christine Paluch , William Carter , Mark Bruce , Koen De Paus : looks like we have a collection of potential HOA participants already? 🙂

  50. DaFreak says:

    I would love to but don’t have a cam. Yes, a technology nut without webcam, they exist! I’ve been telling myself to get one for a couple of years now and this might just be the impulse I needed to make me go through with it. :p

  51. Rajini Rao says:

    Jose M. G. Guerreiro , HOA refers to Hangout on Air. It’s a Google Hangout, just like we could have one in private between you and me, for example, but in this case it is publicly visible and archived on YouTube. We’ve done several through ScienceSunday, have you seen any?

  52. No, but I’m in search now :-), searching……. 

    Thanks Rajini Rao 

  53. Rajini Rao says:

    I’ll find you some, I know where to look..hang on.

  54. Rajini Rao says:

    String Theory HOA with Yonatan Zunger:

    Monkey Business with Erin Kane:

    STEM women:

    We’re just starting to do more, so ideas on topics and volunteers for moderators are welcome!

  55. Thank you Rajini Rao.

    I’m only a mainframe analyst/programmer, and now a Social Sciences student. Trying to make bridges with both Sciences in the future 😉

  56. Rajini Rao says:

    Mark Bruce , if you buy Koen De Paus a web cam, then I’ll get him a headphone/speaker set, it’s a deal 🙂

     Mid-Jan would be great for a HOA. I’ll send out a limited post later.

  57. DaFreak says:

    Oh, you guys are too sweet! Really, thanks for the offer but there’s no need. New year’s resolution; I promise to start experimenting with more sophisticated mediums than text but you are going to have to give me more time! You guys have no idea how shy and introverted I am in real life. 😉

    I once played a lamb during a christmas play and almost cracked under the pressure. Either way, I am just your regular science/tech groupie, you can bet I’ll be firing off questions to the actual experts during the HOA but I would feel a little out of place in such a line up of highly skilled talent.

    You guys seem to have already found “the spirit” but… Happy festivus to all! 🙂

  58. Take mine.. plz pick from pic above..   !!!

  59. Rajini Rao says:

    Pleased to meet you, too and thank you 🙂

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