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Mind-Controlled Robotic Arm Can Unpack Eggs, Operate Machinery

An intimate union between body and machine.

Credit: Linda Bränvall and Martin Carlsson

Scientists at Chalmers University of Technology have created a robotic arm that directly attaches to the skeleton, muscles and nerves, allowing recipients to operate it with their minds.

Others researchers have created similar prosthetics controlled by muscle contractions, using electrodes placed on the skin. But the so-called osseointegrated system developed by Chalmers promises greater range of motion, improved stability and more precise control thanks to its direct contact with the human “biological control system.”

“This creates an intimate union between the body and the machine; between biology and mechatronics,” Max Ortiz Catalan, a scientist at Chalmers University in Gothenburg, Sweden, said in a statement.

At the beginning of last year, the prosthesis was surgically attached to a Swedish truck driver who lost his arm a decade ago. The researchers report that he can now “cope with all the situations he faces; everything from clamping his trailer load and operating machinery, to unpacking eggs and tying his children’s skates, regardless of the environmental conditions.”

The scientists are now exploring the possibility of “sending signals in the opposite direction — from the prosthetic arm to the brain.” In other words, they’re trying restore to an amputee the physical sensation of having an arm.

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