What's the Latest Development?

A team of researchers at Brown University have taught a paralyzed woman to control a robotic arm with her mind, allowing her to take an independent sip of coffee for the first time in 15 years. After implanting a small electrode in the woman's brain, researchers showed her video of the robotic arm and asked her to imagine that she was controlling its movement. By recording the electrical signals in the woman's brain that corresponded to different movements--up, down, left, right, forward and backward--researchers were able to teach the robotic arm to obey those distinct signals.

What's the Big Idea?

While the Brown team had previously taught a man to move a cursor on a computer screen with his mind, the more recent experiment marks the first time humans have manipulated real-world objects simply by thinking about them. John Donoghue, a member of the research team, envisions robotic arms being placed on wheel chairs, enabling paralyzed individuals to reach for and manipulate every-day objects. "A distant goal is to use the brain to reactivate a person's own muscles with the help of an implanted electrical device that reconnects the two within the body. Donoghue is working on such a system with a volunteer."

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