An article this week in Robotic Business Review covers the work of a Swedish postdoctoral student, who has developed a technique for implanting thought-controlled robotic arms and their electrodes directly to the bones and nerves of amputees. It’s being called “the future of artificial limbs,” with the first volunteers receiving their new limbs in early 2013.
Max Ortiz Catalan, biomedical researcher at the Chalmers University of Technology, told Wired that “[Patients] will be able to simultaneously control several joints and motions, as well as to receive direct neural feedback on their actions. These features are today not available for patients outside research labs, our aim is to change that.”
At the risk of boring readers familiar with myoelectric prostheses, the device works by placing electrodes over the skin to detect and capture nerve signals from the brain’s white matter. A computer algorithm translates these signals to the skin surface. Catalan’s thesis is that implanting these electrodes directly to the nerves can capture discarded ions with less “noise,” creating a more natural path between brain and muscle.
The procedure that Catalan and his team will carry out includes anchoring the prosthetic limb to the patient’s bone using titanium screws. An implant will transmit signals from the electrodes to the limb, offering a more faithful representation of how arms are designed to work. Patients will be able to use their minds to control their arms, just like able-bodied people do.
Surgeries will be conducted in January or February of 2013, with the first test cases to be patients who had limbs amputated several years prior.