Great news, everyone! We’re one step closer to the Ghost in the Shell future we’ve been promised since 1995. Leslie Baugh has become the first shoulder-level double amputee to receive a pair of robotic arms. And the best part is, they’re mind-controlled.
Baugh lost both arms in an electrical accident four decades ago. image: APL
They’re called Modular Prosthetic Limbs (MPL) and have been under development at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) for more than a decade. While other patients are already using the limbs, this marks the first time that two have been successfully used in unison.
Using the limbs required Baugh to undergo targeted muscle reinnervation, a surgery that shifts the nerves that used to control your arms and hands into your pectoral muscles where their electrical signals are picked up through the harness on which the arms are mounted.
“It’s a relatively new surgical procedure that reassigns nerves that once controlled the arm and the hand,” Johns Hopkins trauma surgeon Albert Chi, M.D. told Design Boom “by reassigning existing nerves, we can make it possible for people who have had upper-arm amputations to control their prosthetic devices by merely thinking about the action they want to perform.”
Controlling robotic arms isn’t as easy as it sounds though. Baugh had to train extensively using custom software from JHU that not only taught him how to use the arms with a virtual model but also utilized pattern recognition software to calibrate the arms to Baugh’s tendencies.
Unfortunately, the arms aren’t allowed to leave the APL research lab just yet, but the university is confident they will soon be ready for real-world.