Medical Robotics

From Quadriplegic to Chocolate-Eating Cyborg

Posted 18 Dec 2012 at 17:46 UTC by steve Share This

Jan Scheuermann was diagnosed with spinocerebellar degeneration in 1996. As the connection between her brain and muscles degenerated, she lost any ability to move. In 2011 she saw a video of a UPMC research study that interfaced a robot arm to the brain of Tim Hemmes, another quadriplegic. She called immediately and said, "sign me up!" On Monday, UPMC issued a news release with her results.

Before three months had passed, she also could flex the wrist back and forth, move it from side to side and rotate it clockwise and counter-clockwise, as well as grip objects, adding up to what scientists call 7D control. In a study task called the Action Research Arm Test, Ms. Scheuermann guided the arm from a position four inches above a table to pick up blocks and tubes of different sizes, a ball and a stone and put them down on a nearby tray. She also picked up cones from one base to restack them on another a foot away, another task requiring grasping, transporting and positioning of objects with precision.

Two 96 channel intracortical microelectrodes were implanted to provide the brain-computer interface with the 7 DoF robot arm. More technical details can found in the paper, "High performance neuroprosthetic control by an individual with tetraplegia" (pay-walled) and in the NIH Study description. See also the UPMC photo gallery. Jan herself was less interested in the technical details than in the pleasure of being able to move a limb for the first time in eight years. And she had a goal in mind. "I’m going to feed myself chocolate before this is over," she said when the study started. Read on to see the video of her eating chocolate.

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