Jan Scheuermann has been paralyzed from the neck down for years — but thanks to a cutting-edge robotic arm, she can move and lift things with impressive dexterity.
In a new study published Tuesday in the Journal of Neural Engineering, University of Pittsburgh scientists describe their success in giving Scheuermann unprecedented control over a robotic arm.
Scheuermann has tiny sensors embedded in the part of her brain that controls movement (surgically implanted when she first volunteered in 2012). These sensors read the electrical pulses from her brain cells. Then a computer can translate these electrical signals into the commands they represent — an instruction from the brain to the arm to move this way, that way, and the other in order to pick up an object and move it.
Just weeks after her initial surgery, she was able to move the arm back, forth, and sideways. Then she learned to turn her wrist. Finally, as this new study reports, she learned how to position the fingers of the hand into different configurations, allowing her to pick up and put down objects of different sizes and shapes.