Using the Brain to Control Robotic Arms

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The BrainGate Company is a privately-held firm focused on the creation of technology that will allow severely disabled individuals, including those with traumatic spinal cord injury and loss of limbs, to communicate and control common everyday functions by thought alone.

The BrainGate neural interface system consists of a sensor to monitor brain signals together with computer software and hardware, which turns brain signals into digital commands for external devices. This is a type of brain-computer interface intended to put robotics and other assistive technology under the brain’s control. The size of a baby aspirin, the sensor contains 100 hair-thin electrodes that can record the activity of small groups of brain cells. It is implanted into the motor cortex, a part of the brain that directs movement.

Using the technology, researchers recently enabled two quadriplegic participants to use their thoughts alone to perform tasks with two types of robotic arms. In the video, Dr. John Donoghue, the neuroscientist who pioneered the BrainGate neural interface system a decade ago said:

There was a moment of true joy, true happiness. It was beyond the fact that it was an accomplishment — I think an important advance in the entire field of brain computer interfaces. It was really a moment where we helped somebody do something that they had wished to do for many years.

Dr. Donoghue believes the work is a critical step toward realizing a long-term goal of creating a neurotechnology that will restore movement, control, and independence to people with paralysis or limb loss. The study was published in the May 17th edition of the journal Nature [1].

Source: BrainGate2


  1. Hochberg et al. Reach and grasp by people with tetraplegia using a neurally controlled robotic arm. Nature. 2012 May 16;485(7398):372-5. doi: 10.1038/nature11076.
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About the Author

Walter Jessen, Ph.D. is a Data Scientist, Digital Biologist, and Knowledge Engineer. His primary focus is to build and support expert systems, including AI (artificial intelligence) and user-generated platforms, and to identify and develop methods to capture, organize, integrate, and make accessible company knowledge. His research interests include disease biology modeling and biomarker identification. He is also a Principal at Highlight Health Media, which publishes Highlight HEALTH, and lead writer at Highlight HEALTH.