back to article Finally – mind-controlled limbs without brain surgery

DARPA-backed research has given a wounded serviceman a fancy mind-controlled prosthesis without the need for brain surgery. The bionic arm was developed by researchers at the Rehabiliation Institute of Chicago with financial backing from DARPA's reliable neural-interface technology (RE-NET) program, the US skunkworks lab …


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  1. solidsoup
    Thumb Up

    Finally -- a DARPA story

    Moar DARPA stories please!

    How boring would the world be without those crazy boffins?!!

  2. ACx

    This is fantastic. Proper good stuff.

    Why can't the US stick to this sort of stuff, instead of killer robot drones, harassing downloaders, rendition, etc?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      They do stick to this stuff and all the other stuff too, as long as someone funds it :-(. When it comes to this good stuff, I think we are becoming very aware that the bottom dollar has become more important than R&D. If only for 6-12 months we could switch defense spending with the spending for this type of R&D, it would be a different world.

      It's odd to know that I can't receive a mobile signal anywhere in the garage, but its door handle can receive a missile from outer space :-/

      1. Wzrd1

        "They do stick to this stuff and all the other stuff too, as long as someone funds it :-(."

        So much ignorance in such a short sentence. DARPA is the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. The "someone who funds it" is the US Government in a blanket funding deal.

        Interestingly enough, the same technology can be used to control an aircraft or ship's weapons system or a synthetic replacement for a traumatically removed limb.

        Even more interesting is, if your garage door handle can attract a missile from space, you're on a rather naughty watchlist and earned it.

        May you rest in pieces.

    2. Adam 1

      I am sure it is altruism at play

      All rehabilitation and nothing to do with exoskeleton robots for more regular infantry.

      Just like how drones are just a really helpful search and rescue technology.

  3. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    There's nothing like a war for this getting funding for this sort of thing

    And as the US has been fighting 2 wars (in Iraq and Afghanistan) they have had plenty of "test subjects."

    There is a reason for the phrase "Necessity is the mother of invention."

    It is very impressive but boy are those motors annoying.

    Kudos for the result but sadness for reason why it's become a topic of interest. .

    Actually this is a bit sensible for DARPA. A propoer DARPA project would be pushing for full limb regeneration in a support tank, Starship Troopers style. Within one week, in a field hospital.

    1. Hungry Sean

      'tis an ill wind

      I agree with your sentiment-- had a small fracture a few years back and the medical assistant who put on the cast was showing me all the cool new tech they had. He observed that every time there's a war medical technology gets a big bump.

      On the other hand, I can see this tech making such a huge difference for people who've lost their limbs. The naturalness of the motion and the degree of control in the video are impressive-- not quite 100%, but this looks promising. It seemed to require a lot of concentration to operate the limb though, not sure why that would be.

      1. Marcelo Rodrigues

        Re: 'tis an ill wind

        I believe he is using another set of nerves to control the movement. So he is like a baby - still learning how to move his arm.

        But is extremely cool! To think about all the people that will have a new life out of this tech...

    2. Wzrd1

      Re: There's nothing like a war for this getting funding for this sort of thing

      Actually, the research isn't actually geared toward rehabilitation of wounded soldiers, airmen, sailors or Marines. It's geared toward general technology that can be militarily leveraged.

      Such as using it to control aircraft, drones, exoskeletons (those area also DARPA researched still and prototypes are being made right now).

      Want to know my preferred Heinlein sci-fi invention? Commercially available flora and fauna for the human GI tract. It was also mentioned in Starship Troopers.

      Civilian research is now ongoing to ascertain precisely what lives within and on us normally.

      I honestly expect the powered exoskeleton to come out first. Right alongside nuclear hand grenades.

      We just emphasize things to kill one another over curing ourselves far, far, far too much.

  4. Idocrase

    Stick google glass on him and...

    build a sword into the thing...

    1. Jonathan White

      Re: Stick google glass on him and...

      Was just thinking the same thing - even looks a lot like the character in the game. Can we get a sample of him saying "I didn't ask for this.."

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "Now Mr Lister, really go for that ball"

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      You're thinking "Hand pick up the ball" but your subconscious is saying "Punch Kryton in the head, beat the brains out of the demented droid who cut off my beloved arm"

  6. P_0

    That. Is. Awesome.

    Makes me proud to be human. Hacking nature like that.

    Of course, as others have said, the reason why such research got so heavily funded doesn't make me quite so proud.

    Just hope this tech becomes affordable for people who need it.

  7. Solly

    The 6 million dollar question

    Is there a little window in the back of his head so you can see through his bionic eye?

    1. Wzrd1

      Re: The 6 million dollar question

      Only on the politician model. But then, that is already present in politicians.

  8. Mephistro

    A question for knowledgeable-in-neuroscience commentards

    I've always wondered why they don't just use the original nerves in the stump. I mean, they're already wired into the relevant parts of the brain, so if you can put some sensor there, the arm can get orders directly from the brain.

    Inquiring minds want to know.

    And a beer for Sergeant Lehman, though I'd advise him to use his left hand to hold the glass while he drinks. ;0)

    1. Stuart Halliday

      Re: A question for knowledgeable-in-neuroscience commentards

      Because two different people will have very different stumps (each operation will be unique, therefore risky, very specialised and therefore expensive). But this operation can be standardised, made safer, quicker and the price can come down over time.

      1. Wzrd1

        Re: A question for knowledgeable-in-neuroscience commentards

        Yes. Monitor the nerves that used to go to the arm and map their signals when one is grasping, bending the arm, etc.

        But, that is a different research project. Mapping nerve responses without impinging the nerve with probes.

  9. Stuart Halliday

    Another step towards making Cybermen a reality?

  10. Zot
    Thumb Up

    If you could make a whole one... could mirror a human's movements and build a neural network if movement and eventually *oh the horror* - you'll be able to untether it!! Probably.

    The robot will either be a butler, or a war machine, guess which?

    Seriously though, this is the coolest piece of tech I've seen in ages.


    1. Tom 13

      Re: The robot will either be a butler, or a war machine, guess which?

      I'm thinking a cross between Strax and Jeeves myself.

  11. Daniel B.

    Bionic Commando

    So the tech to do a real-life Bionic Commando is coming soon?

  12. oddie

    1 step closer...

    to be able to fully manouver and operate a battlemech without any pesky controls getting in the way?

    1. Wzrd1

      Re: 1 step closer...

      To be honest, it was this retired veteran's first thoughts.

      Right after, shame for forgetting my men who are missing limbs.

      I only have mine because I'm both lucky and noticed hazards before they became danger.

      Aka, damned lucky.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    Wonderful. I was under the impression this kind of thing could be done without brain surgery. Our mind and nervous system seems somewhat (or more so) plastic and malleable. Take this even further, and we should be able to even control cars or robotic tools this way too. But much better for the use of movement and assistance to begin with!

    1. MrXavia

      I was also under the impression that they could already use re-targeted nerves muscles? Maybe it was an EU project I remember seeing, I know there are some amazing techs out of there...

      What I don't; get is why we can't just tap the nerve directly rather than have to redirect it to a new site? a wireless chip directly connecting to the nerve would allow a more complex interface right? I get its hard but is there any research into that going on?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Doing anything surgically has it's subsequent risks or upkeep. Although I've not looked into how pace makers and similar hearing aids are implanted and looked after.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    If the US stopped invading countries...

    ...then there would be less need to re-attach fake limbs to people who've had them blown off.

    It would be cheaper to stay at home, and leave the religious and tribal fukwits to their own madness.

    1. Wzrd1

      Re: If the US stopped invading countries...

      Can you visit my cousin's family in person and say that?

      He died on 9-11 on the 84th floor of the south tower.

      I suspect the "limb" you'd end up missing is the one you don't use anyway, as it contains a brain.

      But, you're right. It's not like there is anything called cancer or accidents that can deprive one of a limb or they're not worthy of help in your world.

  15. nk

    If I understand correctly,

    Old arm nerves reassigned to certain chest muscles

    Man thinks of moving arm - signal travels and eventually said chest muscles contract.

    This chest muscle contraction sends another message to a receiver that translates to prosthetic hand movement

    I assume those chest muscles had to exist before for a reason. That is, they would have to contract at some point regardless of reassigned arm nerves

    So... what happens during those unrelated contractions? Does the prosthetic hand also move involuntarily?

    1. Wzrd1

      I'm sure that all out of usual patterns are not corrected for yet.

      My first two thoughts on your question:

      What happens when the wearer coughs? What happens when the wearer sneezes? What happens when the wearer has the hiccups? What happens when the wearer has an orgasm?

      Yes, serious questions, as ALL involve involuntary chest muscle contractions. All the way to the shoulders and change.

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