People with paralysis control robotic arms using brain-computer interface

Stanford University and Massachusetts General Hospital are recruiting participants for the ongoing Braingate2 clinical trial. For more details, click here.


Providence, RI - A new study in Nature reports that two people with paralysis were able to control robotic arms using only their thoughts. They were participants in an ongoing clinical trial of the BrainGate neural interface system. The participants were able to instruct the arms to reach and grasp objects by thinking about moving their own arms. The study, reported in the May 17 issue of the journal Nature, was a collaboration between researchers at Brown University, the Department of Veterans Affairs, Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School, and the German Aerospace Center.

The BrainGate clinical trial employs a sensor the size of a baby aspirin, made up of 96 hair-thin electrodes. Both participants had suffered brainstem stroke years before the study, which left them unable to control their arms and legs. The sensor was implanted in the motor cortex of the participants' brains, allowing the researchers to record signals associated with the intention to move. Using this "brain-machine interface," one of the participants was able to control a robotic arm using her thoughts to grasp a bottle of coffee and bring it to her lips, and then tilt it to allow her to drink from it (see video).

Previous work had demonstrated that study participants could use the brain's signals to control a cursor on a computer screen. The new study was the first to show that humans could use these signals to control a robotic arm in a complex, three-dimensional task.

More detail about the recent study can be found here. For information on the ongoing clinical trial, including current recruitment at Stanford University and Massachusetts General Hospital, click here.