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Mind Control

The latest advances in thought-controlled robotics was recently demonstrated as a patient – paralyzed from the neck down by a rare disease that erodes the brain and spinal structures – used a robotic arm to pour water from one glass to another with unprecedented dexterity.

The brain-computer interface consists of two electronic chips, each with 96 electrodes, implanted into the motor cortex and wired through the skull to a computer that translates her thoughts into electronic signals. Over the course of about 13 weeks, the patient “trained” the system by watching the arm move and imagining that she was controlling it, while the computer recorded her neural activity. Eventually, the computer was able to decode her thoughts into movements, and generate a feedback loop to fine-tune control. Within two days the patient was moving the arm in three dimensional space, and with additional practice, has been able to feed herself.

The next step will be to give the arm the sensation of touch by adding sensors to detect vibration, pressure and temperature. A wireless version is also being developed to eliminate the need for wires through the skull.

For information: Andrew Schwartz, University of Pittsburg, Department of Neurobiology, 245 McGown, 3025 East Carson Street, Pittsburgh, PA 15203; phone: 412-383-7021; email:; Web site:  

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