Cyberhand Controlled via Electrodes Directly Implanted into Arm Nerves

European researchers have successfully implanted tiny electrodes directly into motor and sensory nerves of an amputee's arm stump

1 min read
Cyberhand Controlled via Electrodes Directly Implanted into Arm Nerves

European researchers have successfully implanted tiny electrodes directly into motor and sensory nerves of an amputee's arm stump, allowing him to move and feel sensations from a robotic hand. While overall this project looks less advanced than other projects such as the Luke Arm developed by Dean Kamen's DEKA, the direct implantation of electrodes seems more straight forward than other current approaches, such as surgically rerouting an amputees’ residual arm nerves to the pectoral muscles and then generate control signals via electrodes detecting pectoral muscle contractions. The researchers also hope that this novel method will allow for faster and, ultimately, more complex control and sensing of artificial limbs for partial amputees.

In this first trial a single amputee chosen from 30 volunteers underwent tests with the implanted electrodes for 1 month before having them removed - more long-term implants are still a major challenge. However, according to researchers the patient mastered the robotic hand within a few days and by the time of the trial the hand obeyed the commands it received from the man's brain in 95 percent of cases. Researchers are now working on significantly increasing the amount of time the hair-thin electrodes can stay in the body.

For more information have a look at the Cyberhand website (unfortunately has been offline for the past few days), a video in English or some more comprehensive videos in Italian and German.

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Robot with threads near a fallen branch

RoMan, the Army Research Laboratory's robotic manipulator, considers the best way to grasp and move a tree branch at the Adelphi Laboratory Center, in Maryland.

Evan Ackerman
LightGreen

“I should probably not be standing this close," I think to myself, as the robot slowly approaches a large tree branch on the floor in front of me. It's not the size of the branch that makes me nervous—it's that the robot is operating autonomously, and that while I know what it's supposed to do, I'm not entirely sure what it will do. If everything works the way the roboticists at the U.S. Army Research Laboratory (ARL) in Adelphi, Md., expect, the robot will identify the branch, grasp it, and drag it out of the way. These folks know what they're doing, but I've spent enough time around robots that I take a small step backwards anyway.

This article is part of our special report on AI, “The Great AI Reckoning.”

The robot, named RoMan, for Robotic Manipulator, is about the size of a large lawn mower, with a tracked base that helps it handle most kinds of terrain. At the front, it has a squat torso equipped with cameras and depth sensors, as well as a pair of arms that were harvested from a prototype disaster-response robot originally developed at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory for a DARPA robotics competition. RoMan's job today is roadway clearing, a multistep task that ARL wants the robot to complete as autonomously as possible. Instead of instructing the robot to grasp specific objects in specific ways and move them to specific places, the operators tell RoMan to "go clear a path." It's then up to the robot to make all the decisions necessary to achieve that objective.

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