The University of Pittsburgh and UPMC have joined forces to usher in the future by giving a quadriplegic patient the ability to control a robotic arm with his mind. The technology is so advanced that he can literally feel what’s happening as if it were his original arm. That’s some science fiction stuff right there.
Twelve years ago, Nathan Copeland was in a car accident that cost him the use of his arms and legs. As a freshmen in college studying nanofabrication, Copeland was quick to sign up for clinical trials that might help him recover the use of his limbs. Lucky for him, researchers at the University of Pittsburgh and UPMC were working on ways to create robotic prosthesis that could replicate human feeling, and they’ve gotten pretty close.
The robotic arm has not been attached to Copeland’s body, but he can control it with his mind. He can feel sensations such as pressure on the fingers and how heavy an object is thanks to four small microelectrode arrays implanted in his brain. The one downside is that he can’t tell if the items he’s picking up are hot or cold yet, but that’s pretty insignificant all things considered.
The success of this experiment could open up a lot of doors to some really cool research down the road. Giving people who have lost limbs the ability to replace the limbs with robotic prosthesis, which not only function but replicate human feelings, would be a huge boon for society.
We’ve already made some great strides on that front, but systems like this are a step closer to essentially having that limb back, which is life-saving for many people. Innovation tends to lead to further innovation too, so this could be the beginning of a sort of transhumanist snowball effect, leading to all kinds of advanced medical technology.