Scientists from Europe and the USA have developed a new robotic system to enable people with spinal injuries to perform simple tasks. The new device has been tested on a small of group of volunteers in Spain, who after a short while were able to eat by themselves and write with a pen.
A report published in the journal Science Robotics and covered by CBC News, goes into detail about how the system works. The user is fitted with an electrode loaded cap, which can detect neural signals in the brain. The signals are then processed by a wireless tablet computer which relays the information to a control box strapped to the user’s arm. The control box then activates the robotic hand which performs a gentle grabbing motion.
The participants were then given simple tasks to perform, such as drinking a glass of water, picking up a sheet of paper, writing with a pen and using a mobile phone. They were also tested with small wooden blocks and a variety of weights. These dexterity tests showed promising results and further research is being carried out.
One researcher told CBC News: “The participants, who had previously expressed difficulty in performing everyday tasks without assistance, rated the system as reliable and practical, and did not indicate any discomfort during or after use.”
Quadriplegia leaves people unable to use both their arms and legs and is usually caused by a traumatic cervical spinal cord injury (SCI). It affects 1 in 10,000 people worldwide so this new technology has the potential to improve many lives.