Another great story of how science-fiction becomes science fact.
Tim Hemmes had been a quadriplegic for seven years since his motorcycle accident. But with the help of a robotic arm, Hemmes was able to overcome his paralysis simply by thinking about it. Mounted next to his wheelchair, he used a robotic arm to give his girlfriend a high-five. A seemingly simple act to most of us, but a milestone for Hemmes and the medical/science community.
The Pennsylvania man is among the pioneers in an ambitious quest for thought-controlled prosthetics to give the paralyzed more independence — the ability to feed themselves, turn a doorknob, hug a loved one.
At the University of Pittsburgh, researchers equipped the participants with electrodes that tap into the brain's electrical signals which control movement. Bypassing the broken spinal cord, the electrodes relay those signals to the robotic arm, thus making the arm move and controlled by the participant's thoughts.
Although Hemmes' progress is encouraging, scientists say they are years away from commercial use, but there are many teams investigating a variety of methods to use the technology. At the University of Pittsburgh, monkeys learn to feed themselves by thinking a robotic arm into motion. At Duke University, monkeys use a virtual arm on a computer and provides feedback which allows them to distinguish the texture of what they touched.
As for Hemmes; the emotional robotic touches he demonstrated have inspired researchers to recruit volunteers for soon-to-start year-long experiments. And hopefully one day, all disabled/paralyzed individuals will be able to overcome their limitations and experience a better quality of life through robotic aids.