Robotic prosthetic arms are gaining a lot of recent interest after neuroscientists at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) were able to tap into a new part of the brain of a paralyzed man named Erik Sorto. Moreover, they were able to achieve better results than they would have if they went with an older form of the technology.
Typically powered by the motor cortex of the brain, older models of robotic prosthetic arms would have shaky and jerky features, but a new method of controlling robotic arms with an implant placed in the posterior parietal cortex may bring a more modernized twist to the way we control robotic arms with our brains.
Immediately recognizable right off the bat was just how fluid and smooth the results of controlling robotic prosthetic arms could be when taking cues from the posterior parietal cortex, which basically acts as the planning point for movements that your brain wants to make. Instead of being shaky and jerky, the movements were much more like that of an actual human arm.
Sorto was able to lift a drink from a table right in front of him and bring it to his lips using the new robotic prosthetic arm technology.
As noted by Richard Anderson of Caltech, the posterior parietal cortex was found in studies to have a lot of say in planned and imagined motions. Movement-based thoughts originate there before they are even sent to the motor cortex part of the brain where they are officially carried out. Anderson explains more in detail in the official Caltech video below:
Taking that raw data from the brain and translating it to an electrical signal that the robotic prosthetic arm can actually understand is just what this device does. By taking what the brain wants to do and then converting it to actual motion, the arm can produce life-like results that essentially mirror what the user intends to do.
This excellent demonstration of science shows that computer aid could one day help future patients in the same boat as Sorto, but the technology is not yet ready for the big time. It's still in early testing phases and there are plenty of glitches that still need to be worked out so that it can be safe for patients, such as improvements to the implanted device to reduce the risk of infections and increase its longevity.
Nevertheless, strides like this continue to give hope to those who suffer with paralysis and other similar disabilities.