Paralyzed man uses brain-powered robot arm to touch

Tim Hemmes touching his girlfriend Katie Schaffer's hand
By Lauran Neergard from
Tim Hemmes Katie Schaffer

Timothy Betler  /  AP

PITTSBURGH — Giving a high-five. Rubbing his girlfriend’s hand. Such ordinary acts — but a milestone for a paralyzed man.

True, a robotic arm parked next to his wheelchair did the touching, painstakingly, palm to palm. But Tim Hemmes made that arm move just by thinking about it.

Emotions surged. For the first time in the seven years since a motorcycle accident left him a quadriplegic, Hemmes was reaching out to someone — even if it was only temporary, part of a month-long science experiment at the University of Pittsburgh.

“It wasn’t my arm but it was my brain, my thoughts. I was moving something,” Hemmes says. “I don’t have one single word to give you what I felt at that moment. That word doesn’t exist.”

The Pennsylvania man is among the pioneers in an ambitious quest for thought-controlled prosthetics to give the paralyzed more independence — the ability to feed themselves, turn a doorknob, hug a loved one.

The goal is a Star Trek-like melding of mind and machine, combining what’s considered the most humanlike bionic arm to date — even the fingers bend like real ones — with tiny chips implanted in the brain. Those electrodes tap into electrical signals from brain cells that command movement. Bypassing a broken spinal cord, they relay those signals to the robotic third arm.

This research is years away from commercial use, but numerous teams are investigating different methods.

At Pittsburgh, monkeys learned to feed themselves marshmallows by thinking a robot arm into motion. At Duke University, monkeys used their thoughts to move virtual arms on a computer and got feedback that let them distinguish the texture of what they “touched.”

Through a project known as BrainGate and other research, a few paralyzed people outfitted with brain electrodes have used their minds to work computers, even make simple movements with prosthetic arms.

But can these neuroprosthetics ever offer the complex, rapid movements that people would need for more practical, everyday use?

“We really are at a tipping point now with this technology,” says Michael McLoughlin of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, which developed the humanlike arm in a $100 million project for DARPA, the Pentagon’s research agency.

Pittsburgh is helping to lead a closely watched series of government-funded studies over the next two years to try to find out. A handful of quadriplegic volunteers will train their brains to operate the DARPA arm in increasingly sophisticated ways, even using sensors implanted in its fingertips to try to feel what they touch, while scientists explore which electrodes work best.

“Imagine all the joints that are in your hand. There’s 20 motions around all those joints,” says Pittsburgh neurobiologist Andrew Schwartz. “It’s not just reaching out and crudely grasping something. We want them to be able to use the fingers we’ve worked so hard on.”

Quadriplegic research subject Tim Hemmes operates a mechanical prosthetic arm with Katie Schaffer during a testing sessions.

The 30-year-old Hemmes’ task was a much simpler first step. He was testing whether a new type of chip, which for safety reasons the Food and Drug Administration let stay on this initial volunteer’s brain for just a month, could allow for three-dimensional arm movement.

He surprised researchers the day before the electrodes were removed. The robotic arm whirred as Hemmes’ mind pushed it forward to hesitantly tap palms with a scientist. Then his girlfriend beckoned. The room abruptly hushed. Hemmes painstakingly raised the black metal hand again and slowly rubbed its palm against hers a few times.

These emotional robotic touches have inspired researchers now recruiting volunteers for soon-to-start yearlong experiments.

“It was awesome,” is the decidedly unscientific description from the normally reserved Dr. Michael Boninger, rehabilitation chief at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. “To interact with a human that way. … This is the beginning.”

[Full article]

Brainpainting via computer frees expression for the paralyzed

Brainpainting image

By Nancy Owano from PhysOrg.com:

Brainpainting via computer frees expression for the paralyzed

Credit: Pingo Ergo Sum project

Heide Pfutzner is getting favorable recognition as an artist who has produced skilled, accomplished abstract paintings with their colorful shapes in electric-like blues, reds, pinks, and yellows, Her admirers not only appreciate her art but her determination as a paralyzed woman who paints by way of thoughts. These thoughts are translated into pictures by a computer. She is able to express herself creatively through brainpainting, where a computer system can translate an artist’s thoughts into images. With use of a brain controlled computer system, the person’s brainwaves translate into instructions as to which colors, shapes and brushes will be put to use for the finished piece.

Pfutzner was a former teacher in Germany; she fell ill in 2007 and was diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), also called Lou Gehrig’s disease in the U.S. The disease left her paralyzed, able only to move her eyes. Her daughter made some contacts, whereby her mother was eventually introduced to the University of Wurzburg’s program. “They developed a special brainpainting program for me,” she said, “and we’ve been a good team ever since.”

BCI stands for . BCIs translate into operational commands for technical devices. BCI approaches have been studied for some time; various (EEG) signals have been applied to control a BCI, including event-related potentials (ERP). Scientists at Wurzburg are are interested in how BCI may serve as an alternative for patients with impaired speech and .

ALS patients deprived of speech and movement may find that BCI provides an opportunity, in this otherwise locked state, to communicate, and that is a core focus area for research at the school.

Researchers have shown that users with impaired motor control such as patients with ALS are able to use something called “the P300-BCI” for communication. The P300 is a type of BCI that is based on ERPs, and It is mainly used for communication purposes.

Users are presented with a matrix consisting of letters and numbers flashed consecutively. By focusing on the intended letter or number, flashing will elicit a prominent positive deflection – the P300 – in the user’s EEG. By detecting the P300 from the event-related EEG, the system can identify which letter/number the user is intending to spell. Scientists have also adapted the P300 to a brainpainting application developed to paint pictures using brain activity only. A brainpainting application was designed by artist Adi Hösle in cooperation with the Institute of Medical Psychology and Behavioral Neurobiology at the University of Tübingen, based on a P300-spelling application. The cells of a 6 × 8 matrix contain symbols indicating color, objects, object size, transparency, and cursor movement.

Explore further: Two minds can be better than one: Thought-controlled virtual spacecraft

More information: www.academia.edu/2986792/Evaluation_of_a_Novel_BCI_Application_with_ALS_Patients_and_Healthy_Controls
www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2996245/#

www.i1.psychologie.uni-wuerzburg.de/en/no_cache/int/research/topics/brain_computer_interfaces_bci/
via Telegraph

Read more at: http://phys.org/news/2013-05-brainpainting-frees-paralyzed.html#jCp