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Dec 15, 2016 09:16 AM EST

University Of Minnesota Research Allows a Person’s Thoughts to Move Robotic Arm

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Disabled people, those with degenerative diseases, or those born without limbs, are often faced with difficulties going places or doing things that require fine motor skills. Now, a new research that shows promising results might pave the way for them to get the help they need: a robotic arm that is operated by the imagination - without the need for an implant.

In the research, published in a Nature research journal Scientific Reports, a group of people were able to move a robotic arm without the need for invasive procedures that require implanting a device in one's head. They simply imagined moving their arms to do something, and the robotic arm did what they thought of doing.

"Just by imagining moving their arms, they were able to move the robotic arm," Bin He, biomedical engineering professor at the University of Minnesota and lead researcher, said in a press release.

"This is the first time in the world that people can operate a robotic arm to reach and grasp objects in a complex 3D environment using only their thoughts without a brain implant," He said.

The noninvasive technique, called the electroencephalography- (EEG-) based brain-computer interface, uses a specialized, high-tech EEG cap that records a brain's "thoughts," or weak electrical activity, and coverts these into action through signal processing and machine learning.

For the study, eight healthy individuals completed various sessions wearing the EEG cap. First they learned to control a cursor on a screen, and then learned to control a robotic arm without actually moving their real arms. They learned using thoughts to control the robotic arm to grasp objects, and move them to different fixed locations on a table.

Eventually, the subjects learned to control the robotic arm to grab things and put them on a three-tier shelf, all by thinking about the movements. All subjects learned to control the robotic arm with high success rates.

He said the results of the research are promising, and might pave the way for science to create helpful solutions for people who are dependent on others' help.

"We see a big potential for this research to help people who are paralyzed or have neurodegenerative diseases to become more independent without a need for surgical implants," He said.

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