Finally, an era where robots can help disabled people to fulfil their dreams has arrived.
This incredible news come from Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, USA, where, thanks to an aspirin sized set of electrodes implanted in her brain, the amazing 58 year old Cathy Hutchinson with a stroke that paralysed most of her brain and lost her use of the limbs, was able to drink alone again.
The experiment consisted in implanting a small device in the person’s motor cortex (which is the part of the brain that controls movement in the body) and connect this to some computers. These computers were able to receive the patient’s neurological signals, match them to their corresponding movement order, and send this information to other computers which accomplished all the tasks.
One of the tests was to make the two other volunteers (the woman and a 66 year old man) reach out, with the robotic arm, a foam sphere, and grab it. The results were really good: one of them got the ball in 46% of all the attempts and the other a 62%.
Another test, the most famous one as it demonstrated how this new project can help our society, was the experiment in which the woman took part. The robot arm was supposed to move according to the Hutchinson’s orders, and grab a cup of coffee, move it to her mouth so she could drink from the straw, and leave it back in the table again.
For this, the scientists told her to imagine she was moving the robot arm, which caused neuronal signals the computers were able to detect and transform into orders the robot arm carried out.
The inventor of BrainGate, the technology used in this experiment, John Donoghue, explains how happy the woman was after completing the experiment and how you could see her brilliant smile when she knew she could do some things finally by herself.
This invention can’t only stop here, and other projects to develop this idea are already being carried out.
For example, scientists can see how this creation can be attached to wheelchairs and other devices to help assist the disabled.
Also, although this looks more into the future, Leigh Hochberg, the leader of this , says these studies can help create a technology so that people with paralysis or amputations can recover
This outstanding experiment was not only an important scientific breakthrough, but it also made a woman that has been in silence for 15 years able to ‘move’ by herself and even drink only using her mind.