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I find it hard to imagine how a robotic arm could be controlled by the user’s thoughts. How does the robotic arm connect to the brain?




Photo: German Aerospace Center (DLR)

In 2011 a paralysed patient succeeded in controlling a robotic arm with signals from her brain and using its gripping hand to bring a drinking bottle with a straw to her mouth. She was able to control the arm without undergoing extensive training, simply by imagining performing the movements with her own arm. In imagining these movements she produced electrical signals in her brain, which were transmitted from a small implant in her skull to a computer. An adaptive program on the computer interpreted the signal and allowed her to control the robotic arm. Neuroscientists had already shown that humans could learn to move a computer cursor with their thoughts, but this project took the development of the technology to the next level by proving the feasibility of allowing multidimensional control of devices as complex as a robotic arm through the use of neural signals.

Saskia Blank from the Ideas 2020-Team answered this question.