Jan Scheuermann hasn't been able to feed herself for 13 years after being diagnosed with a degenerative brain disorder, which left her paralyzed from the neck down. But thanks to breakthrough robot technology using mind-control, she's not only fed herself a bite of chocolate but, according to Reuters, has done so with a fluid motion that hasn't been seen in such technology before.
Jan Scheuermann uses her mind to control a robotic arm and feed herself chocolate. (Photo: UPMC)
Earlier this year, TheBlaze reported on similar technology that allowed a paralyzed women feed herself a sip of coffee.
In Scheuermann's case, University of Pittsburgh Medical Center researchers planted two 96-channel intracortical microelectrodes in her brain, according to the study published in the medical journal The Lancet. The 53-year-old woman after only two days of training could move the arm and after 13 weeks she was able to perform more complex tasks.
"The participant was also able to use the prosthetic limb to do skillful and coordinated reach and grasp movements that resulted in clinically significant gains in tests of upper limb function. No adverse events were reported," the researchers stated in the study.
Watch this University of Pittsburg video with Scheuermann talking about her experience:
“This is the ride of my life,” Scheuermann said in the university press release. “This is the rollercoaster. This is skydiving. It’s just fabulous, and I’m enjoying every second of it.”
BBC has more from the researchers about the study's success:
[Professor Andrew Schwartz from the University of Pittsburgh] told the BBC that movements this good had not been achieved before.
"They're fluid and they're way better, I don't know how to say it any other way, they're way better than anything that's been demonstrated before.
"I think it really is convincing evidence that this technology is going to be therapeutic for spinal cord injured people.
"They are doing tasks already that would be beneficial in their daily lives and I think that's fairly conclusive at this point."
The next steps for the research, according to UPMC, is to try to use the electrodes to stimulate the brain to create a sensation, or feeling ,which would allow the user to adjust their level of grip with the robot. The ultimate goal is to have a wireless system fully implanted so patients could use it at home without specialized supervision. The researchers also said the robot could be replaced eventually if the electrodes could be used to stimulate the patients own limb to move.
Augmenting one's body with technology though, raises some ethical questions. In its article, Reuters reported University of West Scotland professor Andy Miah, who has written on the ethics of human enhancement, saying he considers these types of technological therapies a "back door" to "technological interventions."
"People will question whether this is desirable, but we already live in a society that tolerates such modifications," Miah said.
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