Moving Robotic Limbs with the Mind


Jan Sherman

Photo of Jan Sherman, recipient of robotic arm that responds to thoughts

People can now move robotic limbs with their minds. In some cases, they will be able to receive sensory feedback.

A neuroscientist in Pittsburgh, Andy Schwartz, worked on a Defense Department project called Revolutionizing Prosthetics in 2008. He began implanting sensors into the brain of monkeys and connecting them to a robotic arm with great success.

From there, a retired Army Colonel and neurologist told his defense team he wanted a five-year breakthrough in the $150 million dollar program. That led to the most sophisticated robotic limb program in the country at Johns Hopkins.

A robotic arm can do everything a human arm can do.

A tetraplegic with a rare paralytic disease, Jan Sherman, agreed to the experimental surgery that would implant the sensor into her brain and connect it and her to the robotic arm. Ms. Sherman is bright and was once a TV contest winner. They believed that she had a nimble enough mind for the project.

Jan Sherman can now move her robotic arm with her thoughts.

Ms. Sherman said her thoughts to move the arm are automatic. It was hard work to get there but now she doesn’t have to think about it – the same as when she had use of her own arm.

Another man went through the surgery with the same success. The next surgery will include sensors that will give the recipient the sense of touch.

Watch the CBS special on this link.