Mind controlled arm gives hope to amputees

Christian Kandlbauer is the first person in the world to drive a car using a mind-controlled robotic limb. Four years ago Christian lost both his arms after being electrocuted by 20,000 volts. Now he is able to control all of the joints in his left prosthetic arm by merely thinking about what he wants his arm to do. He has a conventional prosthetic fitted on his right side.

Experts at the medical technology company, Otto Bock Healthcare, which developed the mind-controlled arm, say it is the first project of its kind in Europe. They have announced that the technology is ready to leave the laboratory and be put to everyday use. Dr Egger’s team is publishing detailed surgical and technical guidelines for the mind controlled arm. It involves a new technique known as targeted muscle reinnervation (TMR), where nerves that once controlled a lost limb are used to control a prosthesis.

Christian was the “guinea pig” for the four-year research project. Surgeons at Vienna General Hospital transplanted the nerves that previously controlled his healthy limb to the chest muscles in a six-hour operation. The transplanted nerves allow electrical impulses from the brain to reach the muscles in the chest. The muscles act like a booster, amplifying the signal to a level that can be picked up by electrodes on the surface of the chest. These signals are interpreted by a micro-computer, and used to control a prosthesis which responds in real time to thoughts from his brain. This allows him to control his prosthetic arm as if it were his real arm.

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