Move the forefinger of your right hand up and down. Your finger seems to act automatically, with almost no mental effort. Still, a specific part of the prefrontal cortex needs to be activated to perform the coordinated muscle contractions. Researchers at the John Hopkins University School of Medicine succeeded in hooking up a prosthetic arm to the human brain.
The test subject, a young man with epilepsy, had to undergo brain mapping to find the origin of his seizures. By mapping his brain the researchers were able to pinpoint the exact part of the brain responsible for moving each finger and for each hand gesture and arm movement. Subsequently the prosthetic arm was programmed to respond to his brain activity accordingly, mimicking the movement of his actual hands. The subject had both arms, but that wasn’t important in this research.
The video of the achievement might not be as spectacular as you might think, but according to the lead researcher and professor of neurology Nathan Crone the proof has been delivered: “We are able to control a prosthetic arm with our brain”.
Until now, Terminator-like prosthetic arms, such as Bebionic, were controlled with the muscle twitches in the upper arm, which is amazing in itself, but it’s settling for less compared to the ideal of mind control.
Despite the sci-fi look of prosthetics, the functionality is quite limited. Yet with these ongoing innovations it’s not hard to imagine that one day they will enhance our biological blueprints and turn the disabled into the enabled.