We’re so inspired to hear about powerful new developments like these. This technology not only allows those who need it the use of their limbs again, but by actually using mind control. Not only this, but the increased integration means that it learns faster and more intuitively. It’s an example of what happens when we look at the human context, and use knowledge and AI to make a difference in the lives of individuals.
Ian Burkhart drapes his hand over a beige tube, squeezes his fingers, and lifts it into the air. For most, this movement would be no big deal: You think “grab that tube,” and your spinal cord whisks the command down to your hand, which does the deed before you even realize it. But for Ian, who lost the use of his arms below the elbow eight years ago, the process plays out differently.
When he thinks “grab,” a bead-sized device in his brain picks up the resulting electric blips, a desktop computer interprets them, and a zippered sleeve jolts his forearm with electric current, moving his hand. Over the last five years Ian, who never expected to control his hand again, has learned to pour from a bottle, stir with a straw, and even play Guitar Hero. He regains the use of his right arm only in the lab, however, where engineers can plug him into a computer and run through the calibration session required to remind the machine how to interpret his thoughts.
This week the doctors and neuroscientists developing the interface described a new version that, for the first time in humans, harnesses a novel pairing of machine learning strategies to skip the tedious and repetitive training sessions. Eliminating the need to spend hours each day fiddling with the machine opens the door to Ian, and others like him, someday taking the device home. “Just being able to pick up a bottle and take a drink,” Ian says. “That’s something that would really change my life.”