By controlling robot arms, a paralysed man eats

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There is no doubt about the radical impact that technology has had on today’s civilization thanks to the advances made in different fields, including robotics, where the development of increasingly sophisticated prostheses has been evidenced that have contributed to significantly improving the quality of life of people who suffer from some motor impairment in their limbs, whether lower or upper.

This time we bring the news of a man who has managed to eat without help, after 30 years, thanks to robotic arms created by researchers at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL). In that sense, the person, who is partially paralyzed, was able to control the robotic arms that held a knife and fork, making this an achievement that could give other people with disabilities the possibility of remarkably regaining their autonomy.

brain-machine interface (BMI) is responsible for reading the user’s brain signals that are then processed and executed by the robotic arms with remarkable dexterity, also thanks to the sophistication present in the micromotor that drives the robotic arms. According to what was expressed by the co-author of the study based on this project, Francesco Tenore, this shared control dynamic seeks to take advantage of the potentialities present in the brain-machine interface and the robotic system to make possible the creation of an environment that concentrates the best of both worlds and thus gives the user the possibility of personalizing the behavior exerted by the intelligent prosthesis.

Tenore also added that, although the results are preliminary, he is pleased that together with his group they have been able to create something that allows users with limited motor skills to control increasingly intelligent assistive machines. However, although the degree of dexterity displayed by the robotic arms is impressive, their speed of action is slow. In addition to this, the level of precision shown by the robotic arms can vary depending on the food being handled. In this sense, David Handelman, another of the authors, expressed the following:

“For robots to perform human-like tasks for people with reduced functionality, they will require human-like dexterity.” Ultimately, the researchers are optimistic that sooner rather than later their technology will reach the level of sophistication needed to help make basic activities performed by people with limited motor skills as efficiently as possible.

What do you think?

Written by Rachita Salian


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