Hope for paralysis: mind control of prosthetic limbs

Posted by mjs76 at Jul 06, 2010 12:15 PM |
Amazing research project aims to use wireless technology to circumvent damaged nerves.

Professor Rodrigo Quian Quiroga, Head of our Bioengineering Research Group, is leading a project which offers hope to patients with spinal injuries. Where the brain and the limbs are both working fine but the nerves between are damaged, can an engineering solution bridge the gap?

The idea is as simple as the solution is complex. Quian Quiroga and his colleagues, including researchers at Newcastle University and Imperial College, want to get to the point where they can implant a chip into a patient’s brain that will recognise commands to a particular limb; commands which don’t reach their intended destination because of spinal trauma. This chip will then send the information wirelessly to a robotic device worn on the limb in question.

The principle is sound. Research on monkeys (at other institutions) has developed prototype systems that can do this but they rely on a cable to connect the brain chip and the prosthetic limb, which is obviously not an option with human patients. So the challenge is to create an effective wireless link for a system which would involve a chip with several hundred electrodes, each producing anything up to 30,000 bits of information (‘data points) every second. That’s a lot of data.

The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council has awarded a grant of £1.2 million to the project which aims to produce a working system within five years.