We've been posting a lot recently about military robotics, and having discussions about whether or not we should be scared of robots with weapons. One of the points that I made was that whatever we think of the military's pronounced interest in robots, it does end up paying for all kinds of things, and here is one amazing example that's funded by DARPA (among others): a 7 DoF brain-controlled robotic arm and hand that has allowed this woman take a bite of chocolate unassisted for the first time in a decade.
Jan Scheuermann has had quadriplegia for the last ten years, which means that she can move her head and neck, but nothing lower down. She's part of a program at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine which involved implanting electrodes directly into her brain, and using them to intercept brain signals that Jan can then use to control a robotic arm. The video is nine minutes long, but you won't be sorry to watch the entire thing, I promise.
Did you catch that quote at about five minutes in?
"I used to have to think, 'up, clockwise, down, forward, back...' Now I just look at the target, and Hector [the arm is called Hector] goes there."
That's incredible, isn't it? It's a fairly invasive interface at the moment, and it's not exactly a Luke Skywalker arm quite yet, but such a thing is now near-future technology instead of something that you can only find in a galaxy far, far away.
Evan Ackerman is a senior editor at IEEE Spectrum. Since 2007, he has written over 6,000 articles on robotics and technology. He has a degree in Martian geology and is excellent at playing bagpipes.