One of the fundamental problems with using robot technology is finding an intuitive way to control the challenges, but a team of biomedical engineers in Chicago may have found an answer. Last week, their patient, a 32-year-old man who lost is knee and lower leg in a motorcycle accident, became the first person missing a lower leg to control a robot leg with nothing but his mind last week.
That’s right, this robot prosthetic didn’t require a remote control, a joystick or even a Bluetooth headband; it moved solely when the patient willed it to. A video shows the man walking up and down stairs and ramps and moving uninhibited around town.
The breakthrough was made by a team at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago. A report published by The New England Journal of Medicine says that the team found that electromyographic signals from nerves left in thigh muscles of an amputated leg could be used to control a robotic prosthesis. The EMG signals were decoded and combined with data from sensors in the robotic prosthesis and used to interpret the intended movements.
“This provided robust and intuitive control of ambulation -- with seamless transitions between walking on level ground, stairs and ramps -- and of the ability to reposition the leg while the patient was seated,” the report said.
According to Nature, scientists have already gotten paralyzed people to move robotic arms with their minds, and able-bodied people have used thoughts to control robotic legs, but this is the first time the system has been used by an amputee.
The Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago hopes that this technology will be available for people with missing limbs in as little as three to five years.