A robotic arm can change the life of anyone in need, just for the sake of rehabilitating a lost limb.
Taking the experience to a higher level, we met in 2016 the Nathan Copeland story, as part of the pioneering initiative to implement a robotic arm controlled through a brain implant, which also recovers the ability to touch in whoever carries it.
Six years after the start of the investigation and five years after that first report, new advances in this investigation were released today, whose test subject is Copeland, 34, who suffers from a serious spinal cord injury and loss of blood pressure. mobility of all four limbs since 2004, after a car accident.
With the certainties provided by having gone through several years of trial and error, the latest conclusions of this work were published today in the journal Science.
2016 report with the first progress of the project
The world’s first brain-computer interface
After his accident, Nathan Copeland volunteered to participate in scientific research. The most important step he took six years ago, when he underwent surgery in which small electrodes were implanted in his brain.
Specifically, there are two sets of 88 electrodes, no wider than a lock of hair, which, distributed in matrices that resemble small brushes, penetrate deep into the cortex of the brain, influencing its motor area.
Under this dynamic, around the world no more than 30 people already have some type of implant of a similar category, according to what was commented by one of the study authors, Rob Gaunt, assistant professor in the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation of the University of Pittsburgh.
In Copeland’s case, the difference is that, in addition to the intervention of the motor area of the brain, there is also an additional set of electrodes that are connected to his somatosensory cortex.
“I am the first human in the world to have implants in the sensory cortex that they can use to stimulate my brain directly.”Copeland noted in a conversation with the AFP agency, which has been replicated in different media in recent hours.
“When we are grasping objects, we use this sense of touch very naturally to improve our ability to control”Gaunt added.
The novelty of this experiment is the development of an interface that is bi-directional. This means that it can not only collect instructions from the brain, to send them to the robotic arm. Similarly, but in the opposite direction, the artificial limb can also send stimuli captured through its sensors, to be processed in the brain.
The tests carried out with Copeland had previously only been carried out with monkeys. In recent years, working with this volunteer has allowed him to perfect his technique and, incidentally, improve his life.
Today, due to confinement, Copeland continues to use his brain-computer interface at home, playing video games and learning to draw on a tablet using only his mind, without using the robotic arm to press buttons.
“It’s just second nature to me now”said the volunteer in his last interview.