Brain-machine interface helped a man with paralysis feed himself using robotic arms

People with arm paralysis could easily feed themselves in the future. Researchers at Johns Hopkins University have developed a new technique that allows a partially paralyzed man to feed himself using robotic arms connected via a brain-machine interface. He only had to make small movements with his fists at certain prompts (e.g. “choose interface”) to have the fork-and-knife-equipped arms cut food and bring it to his mouth. According to the researchers, he could have dessert within 90 seconds.

The new method focuses on a shared control system that minimizes the amount of mental input required to complete a task. He was able to map his four degrees of freedom (two for each hand) to up to 12 degrees of freedom to control the robotic arms. The prompt-based intelligent limb responses also reduced workloads.

The technology is still young. Scientists want to add touch-like sensory feedback instead of relying solely on visual elements. They also hope to improve accuracy and efficiency while reducing the need for visual confirmation. In the longer term, however, the team envisions robotic arms like these restoring complex movements and allowing greater independence for people with disabilities.

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