The system involves a tiny implanted sensor to record brain signals and computer software and hardware to turn these signals into commands to move the robotic arm.
The sensor chip which is implanted into the motor cortex of the brain is a square of silicon about the size of a baby aspirin which contains 100 hair-thin electrodes.
By using the new technology, Cathy a 58-year-old woman picked up a bottle of coffee and sipped from it by moving a robotic arm with her thoughts. She had lost the ability to talk and move her four extremities since 15 years ago after due to brain damages caused by a stroke.
The other volunteer a 66-year-old man known as Bob who suffered the same problem also managed to control the robotic arm by imagining the movements in his brain.
“With that sensor, we are able to record dozens of single brain cells. We then decode that activity we are recording,” said researcher Dr. Leigh Hochberg of Brown University and the Department of Veterans Affairs.
“In the future, we will record the brain in more than one place, to extend the movements, and as the research continues the movements will become faster and more natural.”
The researchers say their development is the first demonstration of reaching and grasping by a brain-controlled prosthetic arm.
“The real dream for this research is for people with paralysis to one day reconnect their brain to their own limbs,” added Dr. Hochberg. “These are still the early days of the research, and there’s a lot more research to be done.”