Fourteen years after the stroke that paralyzed her, 58-year-old Cathy Hutchinson picked up a bottle of coffee, brought it to her mouth, and drank. Coffee has probably never tasted so good. Hutchinson accomplished this feat via a robotic arm she controlled with her thoughts.
The technology was developed at the Institute for Brain Science at Brown University. Researchers implanted a silicon chip into Hutchinson's brain, offering a high definition view of her neurons' electrical signals. They then asked Cathy to imagine herself performing basic tasks with her arm, and watched to see how her brain responded. By matching her intended movements with their corresponding neural signals, the researchers were able to write a computer code that translated her thoughts into directions for the robotic arm.
This brain implant technology may one day offer an optimistic prognosis for those who have lost control of their limbs. The applications may also extend to people with psychiatric diseases like schizophrenia and depression by identifying where and how their brains function differently than healthy ones.
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