Robotic limbs controlled by the user’s mind… it sounds like something out of a sci-fi movie.
Yet this technology is very much real, and the folks at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab (APL) have been testing this incredible breakthrough with the help of a man named Les Baugh.
Baugh lost both arms in a teenage accident, and he’s been getting by ever since with ingenuity, creativity, and an indomitable will. Indeed, it’s Baugh’s story that helps make the technology so awe-inspiring.
In the video above, Baugh lights a fire in his stove, cooks himself a meal, and drives his car – all without the use of arms. Yet once the APL team straps on the bionic arms, Baugh is able to perform a variety of tasks – picking up blocks, taking a drink from a water bottle – just by thinking about doing them.
The pioneering technology, which has been under development for more than 10 years, is called Modular Prosthetic Limbs (MPLs). There are only about 10 of these prosthetics in existence, according to Gizmodo.
To use the limbs, Baugh went through a surgery called targeted muscle reinnervation. The muscles that once controlled his arms and hands were moved to his chest, where the electrical signals are picked up by sensors on the bionic arms.
“It’s a relatively new surgical procedure that reassigns nerves that once controlled the arm and the hand,” Johns Hopkins Trauma Surgeon Albert Chi, M.D. told designboom. “By reassigning existing nerves, we can make it possible for people who have had upper-arm amputations to control their prosthetic devices by merely thinking about the action they want to perform.”
Mike McLoughlin is the program’s chief engineer of research and exploratory development, and he says that Baugh could even begin to develop sensations from the prosthetics as his nerves re-map. That’s amazing enough on its own!
Now, this technology is still in the early stages of development, and it’s far from prepared for – or affordable enough for – public use. But the bottom line is that these prosthetics hold enormous potential for Baugh, as well as others who have lost their limbs.