How to Control a Robotic Arm by Thought: DARPA, the Brain and the Computer

A groundbreaking United States Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) project has been awarded to the University of Melbourne in brain-computer interfacing.  In the United States alone, nearly two million people suffer from various disorders where control of limbs is severely impaired. In many of these patients, however, the portion of the brain responsible for movement remains intact, and it is disease and trauma to the spinal cord, nerves and muscles that limit mobility, function and independence. For these people, the ability to restore lost control at even a rudimentary level could lead to a greatly improved quality of life.

Dr Thomas Oxley, neurology trainee, Royal Melbourne Hospital has coordinated a multidisciplinary team, combining personnel from the Department of Medicine, and the Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering), the Royal Melbourne Hospital and the Howard Florey Neurosciences Institute, who have combined extensive research experience in the development of medical bionics, working with intravascular stents, experimentation on large animal models and electrophysiological recordings.

This innovative, minimally invasive approach of inserting electronic systems necessary to reliably acquire and transmit (central nervous system) CNS motor control information is a revolutionary advancement in the area of cortical signal processing….Tthis method would greatly enhance the success of the device by enabling the electrodes to be accurately positioned over the cortical area of interest. The ability for multiple implants to be inserted would allow both quick and reliable control of prosthetic attachments as well as the potential for feedback from prosthetic devices back to the cortex

“DARPA have committed to the development of a neural interface capable of controlling a prosthetic limb by thought,” says Principal Investigator Dr Thomas Oxley.

*DARPA Award No. N66001-12-1-4045

Excerpt, $1,067,200 million DARPA project awarded to the University of Melbourne, Research News University of Melbourne, June 2012

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