Mindful Movement

Mind-controlled permanently-attached prosthetics are a huge improvement in the field of artificial body parts. The limbs have been around for a long time but amputees haven’t had much success using them in the real world. But now scientists in Sweden are about to implant the first thought controlled robotic arm onto a person.

Max Ortiz Catalan, industrial doctoral student at Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden spoke with The Word about his research and its benefits for amputees. He and his team have developed technology which helps amputees control an artificial limb in much the same way as their own biological hand or arm. Although artificial limb technology has been around since the 60s, what Mr Catalan has been working on is a new bidirectional interface with the human body. The control system should be more natural.

“There is electrical activity in your body and when you contract your body to move you send a signal which can be captured by electrodes,” Mr Catalan said. The signals can be recognized by a prosthetic, but skin can interfere with the signal.

Mr Catalan’s team thinks they have a solution. They are putting electrodes on to the nerves and muscles. Most other researchers have attached the electrodes to the brain.

“This makes things easier,” he said. “In the brain there are lots of signals for different processes all in a small area. But when you place the electrodes on the nerves, they can specialize only where, for example, the hand signal comes from and not the shoulder.”

Another development is osseointegration, which is to attach the implants to bone. Traditional prostheses are attached to soft tissue which can be very painful and cause irritation. But by attaching it to the bone, you not only don’t have skin irritation you also have better control.

Mr Catalan is excited about the research he’s doing. He says a big issue that has prevented work such as his going forward in the past is that a lot of different fields from medical to engineering need to cooperate.

When you ‘reinvent the wheel’ you create something which has been invented already. It’s usually used with the negative to say that what you are working on isn’t new, but different.

“We aren’t reinventing the wheel but what is unique is this combination of all the techniques that are out there,” Mr Catalan said. “We are taking all the research that’s been done and making it real for patients – it’s the difference between showing it to them and giving it to them to take home; there is a huge gap and that’s what we are trying to close.”

Original article by Jacy Meyer – Phoenix, Arizona. Text edited by The Word’s methodology team  

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Mind-controlled artificial limbs are not new. But scientists in Sweden thinks they have improved the old methods. They will attach the first mind-controlled arm this year.

The Word spoke with Max Ortiz Catalan, an industrial doctoral student at Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden. He told us about his research and how it could help amputees. His team’s limbs are an improvement because they should work more like a real limb.

“There is electrical activity in your body and when you contract your body to move you send a signal which can be captured by electrodes,” Mr Catalan said. “People have been trying to use electrodes to translate the signals and make movement.”

Mr Catalan’s solution is to attach the electrodes to nerves and muscle and not the brain.

“In the brain there are lots of signals for different processes all in a small area. But when you place the electrodes on the nerves, they can specialize only where, for example, the hand signal comes from and not the shoulder,” he explained.

Another improvement is to attach the limb to the bone. Prosthetics on the skin cause irritation and skin can interfere with the signal. When it is attached to the bone, the amputee has more control.

When you ‘reinvent the wheel’ you create something which has been invented already. It’s usually used with the negative to say that what you are working on isn’t new, but different.

“We aren’t reinventing the wheel but what is unique is this combination of all the techniques that are out there,” Mr Catalan said. “We are taking all the research that’s been done and making it real for patients – it’s the difference between showing it to them and giving it to them to take home; there is a huge gap and that’s what we are trying to close.”

Original article by Jacy Meyer – Phoenix, Arizona. Text edited by The Word’s methodology team 

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Mind-controlled permanently-attached prosthetics are a huge leap forward in the field of artificial body parts. While work has been done in laboratories for years, actually getting the technology into amputees’ daily lives hasn’t been happening. But work is progressing quickly at research centers and universities around the world, and in Sweden, operations to insert the world’s first implantable thought controlled robotic arm are soon to take place.

A Huge Leap Forward: A leap is a jump over a long distance. Think of kangaroos. A leap forward describes any large advancement.

Max Ortiz Catalan, industrial doctoral student at Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden spoke with The Word about his research and the impact it could have on amputees. Basically, the technology he and his team have developed helps amputees control an artificial limb in much the same way as their own biological hand or arm – through the person’s own nerves and remaining muscles. Amputees have been able to use prostheses controlled by electrical impulses in the muscles for years; in fact Mr Catalan says the technology for this hasn’t changed much since the 60s. What he’s been working on is a new bidirectional interface with the human body that utilizes a natural and intuitive control system.

“There is electrical activity in your body and when you contract your body to move you send a signal which can be captured by electrodes,” Mr Catalan said. “People have been trying to use electrodes to translate the signals and make movement. We put electrodes on the body, record the signals and design algorithms to recognize it.” While that sounds great, Mr Catalan says the biggest problem has been putting it into practice. The signal has to travel through tissue, fat and skin plus the skin moves a lot, it sweats – all of these factors change the interface.

A variety of research similar to the Chalmers’ team’s is being done elsewhere, but how Mr Catalan’s differs is that they are putting electrodes on to the nerves and muscle vs. the brain, which other studies are doing.

“This makes things easier,” he said. “In the brain there are lots of signals for different processes all in a small area. But when you place the electrodes on the nerves, they can specialize only where, for example, the hand signal comes from and not the shoulder.”

There’s another unique angle to his experimentation – osseointegration. Osseointegration uses a titanium implant to anchor the prosthesis directly to the skeleton.  Mr Catalan says osseointegration has been around since the 60s; it was first used in dental implants. Traditional prostheses are attached to soft tissue which can be very painful and cause irritation. But by attaching it to the bone, you not only don’t have skin irritation you also have better control because it is attached to your skeleton. It is then used to enable the signals inside the body to reach the prosthesis. The electrical impulses from the nerves in the stump are captured by a neural interface, which sends them to the prosthesis through a titanium implant. These are then decoded by algorithms that allow the patient to control the prosthesis using his or her own thoughts.

“It has solved a lot of problems in connecting prosthetics to the body,” Mr Catalan said. “Now we have technology that is small enough and is available and we are making it all fit together and provide patients with more sophisticated prosthetics.”

Mr Catalan says there will be many questions to investigate in his upcoming operations. A big one is whether they can rehabilitate nerves that weren’t connected to muscle.

“The common belief is motor nerves need to be connected to muscles,” he explained. “But if we put an electrode there and the patient has reason to use the nerve to create motion – can we rehabilitate nerves that haven’t been used in many years?”

Mr Catalan is excited about the research he’s doing. He says a big issue that has prevented work such as his going forward in the past is that a lot of different fields from medical to engineering needed to come together to make it happen.

When you ‘reinvent the wheel’ you create something which has been invented already. It’s usually used with the negative to say that what you are working on isn’t new, but different.

“We aren’t reinventing the wheel but what is unique is this combination of all the techniques that are out there,” Mr Catalan said. “We are taking all the research that’s been done and making it real for patients – it’s the difference between showing it to them and giving it to them to take home; there is a huge gap and that’s what we are trying to close.”

Jacy Meyer – Phoenix, Arizona

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