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Controlling Prosthetic Limbs with Thoughts is now a Reality!

Controlling Prosthetic Limbs with Thoughts is now a Reality!

Imagine a loved one who lost one or more of his limbs in an unfortunate accident. While prosthetics have been around since at least the latter half of the 19th century, as any amputee would tell you – nothing can mirror the quick, easygoing reflexes and brain-controlled mechanism of appendages for the human body designed by Mother Nature herself.

However, Artificial Intelligence (AI) for medical industry is set to change the equation. With the integration of microprocessors into the prosthetic hand and the human brain, the subject can now move objects almost as dexterously as if were possible with natural limbs. So, if the whole idea was about “grabbing two red dices“, in near future, the subject should be able to maneuver his limbs to get a hold of two dices with a few affirmative thoughts, mirroring the perfection of natural limbs.  Wouldn’t that be great, a world of new hope for amputees with so many degrees of freedom.

One can appreciate that so far, shoulders and nerve endings that controlled movements of prosthetic arm joints including the elbow, wrist and hand were units independent of each other. Without damaging the nerves, these endings can now be redirected to a working muscle module and attached to a set of chest muscles. This would create a new set of artificial limbs with advanced functionalities as below:

  • One can use a few pairs of electrodes placed on the surface of the chest muscles and motor movements that are controlled by muscles.
  • Each electrode will control an INDIVIDUAL motor to move the prosthetic arm’s joints. A thought such as “open hand,” will trigger a message to the brain to send a signal to the relevant nerve connected to the chest muscles.
  • Electrodes residing on the skin surface will be able to pick up pulses from chest muscles and send them to the programmed microprocessor.
  • The microprocessor will then translate signals and send them across to the motors to control the movements of hand and fingers.

The astonishing capabilities of such an efficient artificial prosthetic system include:

  • Elbows that flex and extend with muscle signals so the subject can reach for a beverage and bring it to closer to his lips
  • Wrists that bend and rotate, allowing the subject to position objects for convenient viewing and handling
  • Hands that can drag a suitcase or hold an egg without cracking it
  • Thumbs that can change orientation with multiple hand positions

Microprocessor-based prosthetics have couple of advantages over body-powered prosthetics as they use battery and electronic motors to function instead of straps and harness.  As body-powered prosthetics use strapped cables and harness, an individual needs to mechanically manoeuver the artificial limb through muscle, shoulder and arm movement.  While they are durable, they often sacrifice natural appearance for moderate functionality. With time, the process becomes tedious. On the other hand, in microprocessor based prosthetics, the user has direct control through a thought and feedback mechanism. In addition, the user can control the strength and speed of limb’s movements by varying muscle intensity.  Additionally, the acute sensors and motorized control adds greater dexterity.

Another important advantage is that the microprocessors provide the ability to modify control mechanism and inputs characteristics quickly as they are reprogrammable. Microprocessors can accept a wide range of input devices that can enhance an individual’s prosthetic function, allowing diverse control options for individuals.

The current development of microprocessor-based prosthetic control for individuals with upper limb deficiency has considerably expanded the possibilities of advanced treatment options too. Such technological innovations created with the help of artificial intelligence can change the whole era of the medical & healthcare industry.

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