Thought-controlled cybernetic arms demonstrated

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Friday, September 15, 2006

Jesse Sullivan has two cybernetic arms, after electrical burns suffered while working as an electrical utility lineman resulted in amputation of both his arms at the shoulder. Claudia Mitchell has a similar cybernetic left arm, after a motorcycle accident resulted in amputation. Sullivan and Mitchell shook hands with these thought-controlled prosthetic arms at an event staged Thursday in Washington, D.C. by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and Center for Artificial Limbs at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago.

Unlike traditional prosthetic limbs, these are actuated through muscle reinnervation; nerves are grafted onto specific muscles, controlling their contraction, which are then detected by electrode sensors and control the prosthetic limb. "Basically it is connecting the dots. Finding the nerves. We have to free the nerves and see how far they reach," says Dr. Todd Kuiken, developer of the prostheses and director of neuroengineering at the Rehabilitation Institute. By this chain of communication the prostheses utilize thought-controlled biomechanics. According to Sullivan, "When I use the new prosthesis I just do things. I don't have to think about it ... I do all the yard work. I take out the garbage."

DARPA, as an agency of the United States Department of Defense, seeks to eventually provide such prostheses for soldiers losing their organic limbs in combat. "We're excited about collaborating with the military," said Kuiken. 411 U.S. troops in Iraq and 37 in Afghanistan have had wounds that cost them at least one limb according to the Army Medical Command.

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