Fully functional robotic prosthetics might sound like something out of a sci-fi novel, but it seems that restoring mobility in paralyzed patients using robotic implants and prosthesis will soon become a standard medical procedure. Recently, a team of researchers from the Cleveland Case Western Reserve University managed to restore partial mobility in a 56-year-old patient who was paralyzed from the shoulders down after a terrible bike accident.
As a result of the novel robotic prosthesis, 56-year-old Bill Kochevar is now able to use a fork in order to eat mashed potatoes, mac & cheese, and drink coffee all on his own. Unfortunately, due to the extent of his injury sustained during his cycling accident in 2006, Kochevar has been unable to eat unassisted. However, thanks to the latest advancements in the field of biocompatible technologies and robotics, the man is now able to perform several menial tasks on his own.
As Bob Kirsch, the senior author of the new robotic study, declared, Kochevar’s road to recovery began in 2014, when he was selected to participate in brain-computer interface program. During the first phase of the program, the man received two surgical implants in his brain.
According to Kirsch, these implants translate biological signals coming from the brain into digital signals that can be interpreted and processed by a computer. The signals coming from Kochevar’s brain are relayed to a computer via a cable. This PC analyzes, processes, and relays the signals to several electrodes located in Kochevar’s robotic arm.
However, before receiving the robotic prosthetic, the man had to be instructed on how to use the device using a Virtual Reality system. Following his VR training, Kochevar received a real-life robotic arm.
According to the man’s statements, his life has greatly improved after the brain surgery and receiving the robotic prosthesis. For more than eight years, Kochevar was unable to feed himself because he was paralyzed from the shoulders down.
But now, thanks to the implants, the man is able to drink coffee, juice, and water through a straw and to use a fork to eat mash potatoes or macaroni and cheese. Kirsch said that although the machine has sometimes trouble to process the signals coming from the man’s brain, it would appear that the interface is stable, paving the way for new prosthetics that can potentially restore full mobility in patients who sustained injuries similar to Kochevar.
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