For the first time ever, a paralysed man has moved his hand using his mind — and some pretty badass technology. The announcement came just days after a paralysed woman kicked the first ball at the World Cup in Brazil with the help of an exoskeleton. Paralysis, it seems, is increasingly becoming a thing of the past.
Ian Burkhart lost the ability to move everything below his chest four years ago, after he dove head first into a sandbar and broke his neck. The 23-year-old has not been able to move his arms past his elbows since then. However, thanks to his age and the specifics of his injury, Burkhart was a prime candidate for an experimental procedure that would equip him with a virtual spinal cord, of sorts.
The process began in April, when doctors drilled a small hole in his skull and implanted a chip in his brain. This enabled doctors to install so-called "Neurobridge technology" that help send signals from Burkhart's brain to a special sleeve that stimulates the atrophied muscles in his arm. Thanks to 96 electrodes, the chip can read the signals from Burkhart's brain and send them to the sleeve which zaps the specific muscle segments needed to move Burkhart's hand.
Got all that? Well, the long and short of it is that the technology works. Burkhart started off by using his mind to control a cursor on a screen. (This sort of thing has been done before.) He worked his way up from there, doing increasingly difficult tasks with the brain-to-computer interface. Doctors said they would have considered the experiment a success if Burkhart could move just one finger, but last week, the bionic young man managed to pick up a spoon with the power of thought.
This is just wildly exciting. While we're certainly a ways away from quadriplegics jumping out of their wheelchairs, it's safe to say we're well on our way to a cure for certain types of paralysis. And the pace of progress is picking up in pretty extraordinary ways. If it took two years to go from a mind-controlled robotic arm to a mind-controlled human arm, we can only hope the next breakthrough is right around the corner. [Telegraph, Washington Post]