Scientists Have Developed a Mind-Controlled Robotic Hand for Quadriplegics

It blew our minds a bit on Grey’s Anatomy, and now it is a real-life thing.

Scientists in Berlin have developed a mind-controlled robotic hand that could change the lives of people with certain types of spinal injuries.

The device would enable them to perform everyday tasks like using a fork, writing or drinking from a cup.

It’s also relatively low-cost to produce.

It was tested in Spain on six people with quadriplegia that affects their ability to grasp or manipulate objects, all of whom were able to perform daily tasks more effectively with the robotic hand than without, according to results published in the journal Science Robotics. The participants represented individuals with high spinal cord injuries, meaning they were able to move their shoulders but not their fingers.


Image: Associated Press

“The participants, who had previously expressed difficulty in performing everyday tasks without assistance, rated the system as reliable and practical, and did not indicate any discomfort during or after use,” the researchers said, according to The Associated Press.

In simple terms, a cap that measures electric brain activity and eye movement enables users to send signals to a tablet computer that controls a glove-like device attached to their hand.

As The Associated Press highlights, while using brain-controlled robotics to assist quadriplegics isn’t new, most existing technology requires implants or uses wet gel to transmit signals from the scalp to the electrodes. Both are less-than-ideal, as implants can cause health problems and the gel needs to be washed out of the user’s hair afterward.

According to the researchers, the new system took participants just 10 minutes to learn how to use the system before they were able to perform tasks like picking up potato chips or signing a document.


Like most new technologies, however, there were some limitations to the system. For example, mounting the device required the help of another person, and the users had to have sufficient function in their shoulder and arm to reach out with the robotic hand.

While it’s undoubtedly a promising pilot study, experts say that further clinical tests are needed.

“Bigger studies will be very important to find out which patients respond well, less well or not at all,” said Jan Schwab, an expert on spinal cord injury at Berlin’s Charite hospital who wasn’t involved in the research.

But it’s definitely a huge step forward when it comes to things like re-training the brain of a stroke patient in the rehabilitation process. Apparently, the system could hit the market within two years at a cost of between $5,370 to $10,740, depending on functionality.

From this groundbreaking MS news, to the fact that medical marijuana patients can grow their own pot, 2016 has definitely been a progressive one when it comes to the medical world (even if everything else is moving backward).

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