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Students Create Thought-Controlled Prosthetic Arm

timothy posted about 3 years ago | from the only-the-good-thoughts-I-hope dept.

Canada 50

Zothecula writes "Two undergraduate students from Toronto's Ryerson University have created a prosthetic arm that is controlled by its wearer's brain signals, and powered by compressed air. Not only is the Artificial Muscle-Operated (AMO) Arm said to offer a greater range of movement than traditional prostheses, but it also doesn't require the amputee to undergo invasive surgery, is easy to learn to use, and it is relatively inexpensive to make."

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Looks great (4, Insightful)

MichaelSmith (789609) | about 3 years ago | (#35692774)

The article discusses other projects they are looking at. Artificial lungs and way of bypassing spinal cord injuries. Its the sort of pragmatic engineering we should see more of in medicine. I hope they can deliver.

Re:Looks great (1)

r.stallman (2030484) | about 3 years ago | (#35692794)

I was only thinking the other day Microsoft Robotics Developer Studio 2008 R3 might be a good development platform for prosthetic applications. Hopefully the fact it's generously provided gratis will help more students be able to participate in this important and exciting area.

Re:Looks great (1)

MoeDumb (1108389) | about 3 years ago | (#35692796)

Classic out-of-the-box thinking went into this. Hope it goes commercial big time, to the benefit of many.

Re:Looks great (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#35693624)

out of the box thinking? They connected two bog-standard systems together to do something that has been done better with invasive surgery to attach the arm to the nerves it's supposed to be connected with. This is a giant step backwards.

Re:Looks great (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#35697196)

Most everything seems obvious once someone else has thought of it.

Re:Looks great (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#35692920)

All it really is, is a way for geeks to get handjobs. They have fun with it starting Friday night, and come Monday morning, they call it an "engineering project." Bah!

Re:Looks great (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#35695432)

Sure, you might get 12 or 20 great hand jobs but when the robotic arm goes sentient that's all the good handjobs you'll get.

Re:Looks great (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#35694294)

I'm a bio-electrical engineer from MIT, and have done a dozen years of work in the field. This is a classic lab demonstration of a concept that fails in practice. I've worked with such sensory-neural prostheses, and it *does not work* for delicate control of anything. You can't reliably measure such signals: you can make gross measurements from skin or subcutaneous electrodes, but it's like trying to steer your car by aiming a firehose at the steereing wheel You can actually manipulate it and turn the car left or right, but it's very slow, a very noisy signal, and likely to be overwhelmed by other factors. Even the Boston Arm, which used skin electrodes on the muscles of the shoulder over 20 years ago and worked reasonably well as a mechanical device, had a half second phase lag between the desire to move, the signal being detected as relevant by the controls, and moving the arm.

And don't say "we'll just analyze the signals with a computer!!!" This is not helped by fancy digital analysis: it's a basic signal/noise problem, and there is no solution with external electrodes or measurement. You have to get at the nerves themselves, and actually measure the signals far more precisely than is usually done, to get anything like quick or refined control of the system. This sort of thing has also been tried, repeatedly, for military aircraft to reduce the phase lag for pilots in combat having to send signals to their muscles to guide the plane. It never worked there, either.

Now, with all that said, it's interesting that they made the arm pneumatic. Reducing the cost and reducing some of the electrical dangers of a significantly strong mechanical arm is an interesting project, and I hope it works out for them. One real test is how much the arm can lift. The Boston Arm could lift 12 ounces easily. (I asked the design engineer why and how he tested it, and he pointed out that it was to lift a beer. So I laughed and bought him one.)

Re:Looks great (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#35695540)

+20 Insightful if i could :)

How long before this repaces keybord/mouse (2)

nzac (1822298) | about 3 years ago | (#35692788)

It can't be too much longer before you can get the cost down to the point high end users can afford it.

If they can make the learning fast enough and distinguish between different letters then sometime in the next 20 years you will be buying a cap with your tablet or other mobile device.

Re:How long before this repaces keybord/mouse (1, Funny)

Shikaku (1129753) | about 3 years ago | (#35692822)

No "the stranger" jokes yet? I thought someone might do this because of the enabling technology. See this [urbandictionary.com] if you don't know what it is.

Re:How long before this repaces keybord/mouse (2)

nzac (1822298) | about 3 years ago | (#35692870)

While I see zero feedback as issue for these kinds of devices I don't see the 'the strangers' relevance to IO input.

My thinking is if you could for the easy case input hex by selectively contacting four fingers of one hand and turn the motor function of the hand of with a switch. You could also expand this to ternary input by using contacting and extending allowing full ASCII.

I do see a lot of risk to confusing the brain about normal mussel use if not done properly.

Re:How long before this repaces keybord/mouse (3, Funny)

andrea.sartori (1603543) | about 3 years ago | (#35693100)

I do see a lot of risk to confusing the brain about normal mussel use if not done properly.

These hate-fueled, misleading claims made by oyster producer shills must be stopped! Mussel is a perfectly healty and safe food!!!1

Re:How long before this repaces keybord/mouse (1)

maugle (1369813) | about 3 years ago | (#35694342)

My thinking is if you could for the easy case input hex by selectively contacting four fingers of one hand and turn the motor function of the hand of with a switch. You could also expand this to ternary input by using contacting and extending allowing full ASCII.

I think Google beat you to that idea [google.com]

Re:How long before this repaces keybord/mouse (1)

nzac (1822298) | about 3 years ago | (#35695124)

I'm sure the idea is not new its more a proof of concept (for me) that it could work.

You have it wrong, i am saying that it could be possible in the next couple of decades to use a cap to read brain waves not a camera. The camera requires a lot of space. If this was to work you could type full speed (with a lot of practice) on the subway, (hopefully not driving) a car....

population; thought controlled arm of chosen ones (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#35692808)

well, there's lawyers guns & money if the thinking fails. the truth leaking out everywhere seems to be an unexpected part of the chosen ones holycost (re)depopulation (.5 billion pop. mandate; georgia stone) thought control maintenance eugenatic schemes? speeds things up a bit?

babys rule. disarm

others' thinking controls US? more craziness (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#35692830)

say.?.please. always..?..always. like a good neighbor....? ask your doctor...?..for you. which shade of black would you prefer?

don't be afraid? it's our most vulnerable installed feature.

I'm not sure about this. (2, Interesting)

Tigger's Pet (130655) | about 3 years ago | (#35692816)

I would all depend on what level of the thought process they have it operating. Would the user have to actively think "I'll move it up, down, away, towards etc", in which case it would be less intuitive and easy than the nerve- or muscle-controlled ones. If the arm was set to just work on 'impulse' type thoughts, then how long before peoples arms start grabbing women by the arse just coz the user had a dirty thought - would they be able to be held responsible in law for the action of their arm?
As for the Canadians doing this, well done. DARPA have been working on this for a long time now;-
http://www.neurotechreports.com/pages/darpaprosthetics.html [neurotechreports.com]
http://singularityhub.com/2010/08/03/mind-controlled-artificial-arm-begins-the-first-human-testing/ [singularityhub.com]

Re:I'm not sure about this. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#35693454)

If the arm was set to just work on 'impulse' type thoughts, then how long before peoples arms start grabbing women by the arse just coz the user had a dirty thought - would they be able to be held responsible in law for the action of their arm?

Well I can generally separate my thoughts of grabbing ass from the actual thoughts that make my arm grab an ass. Presumably amputees haven't also had lobotomies.

Re:I'm not sure about this. (1)

kinuso kid (2009738) | about 3 years ago | (#35693466)

What they have done is quite different than the DARPA project in that it does not involve surgery. Like older prosthetics, it just slips on over the stump. You wear a head band to control it and yes, you think "up", "down" etc to move it. In the video I saw of it a user got it to operate with very little training.

Re:I'm not sure about this. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#35693616)

Would the user have to actively think "I'll move it up, down, away, towards etc",

Not with EEG. I hear they are up to around 5 degrees of freedom but the controls need to be learned. I tried an EEG controller using one degree of freedom (making a ball roll away from me) and I took all my concentration just to make the ball move. The other issue is that an arm has 6 degrees of freedom (not counting fingers). What I am curious about is even after the person learns to control the arm with EEG, how does it disrupt everyday thought processes. Could you have an in-depth conversation and shake someone's hand at the same time?

Thought controlled droid arm (1)

Grindalf (1089511) | about 3 years ago | (#35692838)

For an encore, the next project should be a disembodied robot arm that carries out a blitz of thought control of the “humans that infest our planet”. There's your cult science horror right there...

What? (3, Funny)

a_hanso (1891616) | about 3 years ago | (#35692848)

No "CANADIAN students create thought controlled prosthetic arm"?

Disclaimer: Big fan of Canada. I'm joking and I'm drunk.

Dodgy article (3, Informative)

EdZ (755139) | about 3 years ago | (#35692914)

Hard to tell whether this is anything new or not when the article makes such glaring errors as:

While some traditional prosthetic arms move via myoelectric motors and relays

Myoelectrics involves sensing muscle movements by the electric fields generated, and is nothing to do with a type of electric motor. I doubt if anyone has used a relay in a prosthetic limb for at least a decade.
If they really just using an EEG headband to control the arm, it's going to have very low controlled dexterity, and extremely slow response.

Re:Dodgy article (2)

VolciMaster (821873) | about 3 years ago | (#35693056)

Hard to tell whether this is anything new or not when the article makes such glaring errors as:

While some traditional prosthetic arms move via myoelectric motors and relays

Myoelectrics involves sensing muscle movements by the electric fields generated, and is nothing to do with a type of electric motor. I doubt if anyone has used a relay in a prosthetic limb for at least a decade. .

So it's not a "glaring error" at all - if they were used previously, then likely many of those devices are still in operation, so it's a true statement.

Re:Dodgy article (1)

EdZ (755139) | about 3 years ago | (#35693174)

It's in the same vein as saying "many previous computers worked using DC hard-discs and inter-meshing gears [wikipedia.org]". One is total nonsense, the other is so outdated as to be irrelevant.

Re:Dodgy article (1)

jfengel (409917) | about 3 years ago | (#35694084)

It's the reason I don't mind the April Fools Day jokes. News in the tech industry is actually pretty slow. Minor advances get blown up into big news. It's hard even to tell from this article exactly how much is novel and how much of it is just "Hey, we're students and we put together existing technologies in the hopes that after we graduate we're going to build something genuinely world-changing."

Of interest to the nerds, I suppose, especially those not actually in the field who are interested in something close to the state of the art. So it may be "stuff that matters", but it's not exactly "news" for nerds. This story could come out next week or next month or next year and probably be just as timely.

Re:Dodgy article (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#35716568)

I actually have a myoelectric prosthetic. It's not the greatest device, all I can do is open and close it. As for relays, of course it has relays! The digital signal goes from controller to the relay and then to the servo. That's just how it's done, 5 volts from the digital signal can't power the servos to close the hand. Research like this makes me happy.

SONG (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#35692932)

Don't hold back......

There's a party over here
so you better drink a beer
so I can do you in the rear
NOW SING IT!

But (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#35692960)

But is it heavy? I heard from a professor of mine that despite all the amazing advances in robotic prostheses, real adoption has been low because people just don't want to go around all day wearing something that heavy.

Public Private Synergy (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#35692982)

Nice to see public (mil-funded) university research be privatised so quickly and efficiently. Just goes to show how much easier things are once pioneering scientists have cleqared the way.

I'm glad that a significant portion of the innummerable profits and returns will be generously shared with the original thinkers and creators who made all this possible, aiding them do do even more for suffering humanity.

A joke, right? (1)

grouchyDude (322842) | about 3 years ago | (#35693002)

This is not serious or credible. Building prosthetic devices is a serious challenge with a lot of ergonomic issues. This project and the reportage like some kids building a lego robot and expecting it to revolutionize the automobile industry. Great, they controlled some simple pneumatic with an alpha wave reader: yawn.

How about Dean Kamen's TED talk as a reference point for what's really needed and where this game is at: http://www.ted.com/talks/dean_kamen_previews_a_new_prosthetic_arm.html [ted.com]

Re:A joke, right? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#35714628)

Lol who are you? Why haven't you made a prosthetic. At least these guys are trying to do something. Look how young they are; if they are starting now, give them a few years and they can really do amazing things. As long as they are trying to improve the quality of life for people.

Pffft, that's nothing (1)

BradleyUffner (103496) | about 3 years ago | (#35693254)

My parents created 2 pair of BIOLOGICAL thought controlled arms over 30 years ago!

Re:Pffft, that's nothing (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#35716522)

If they did, where are these arms? It would be interesting to see. Who are your parents?

Sounds like the 3-armed monkey (2)

Woogiemonger (628172) | about 3 years ago | (#35693318)

In this TED talk: http://www.ted.com/talks/paul_root_wolpe_it_s_time_to_question_bio_engineering.html [ted.com] ... the speaker details an experiment where they had a robotic arm respond to the brain signals a monkey has when it moves one of its arms. The monkey realized intuitively how it's controlled and eventually was able to move the arm without moving its real arm, effectively giving the monkey three working arms. Might've been an ape -- I forget.

Re:Sounds like the 3-armed monkey (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#35697274)

Rhesus. Or macaque. One of the scientists is ____ Nicolelis. Something like that. The monkey was in the US. The arm was in Japan (in the pioneering experiment). Now, if you consider that mouse-brain cells have flown an F-16 (or other) ...

Does this go too far? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#35693412)

This is only one step away from a prosthetic arm that controls your thoughts.

Does it respond to voice commands? (1)

mfnickster (182520) | about 3 years ago | (#35693444)

Like "raise my left arm" or "throw the harpoon"? People are going to come from all over... this boy's an Eskimo!

Didn't RTFA (1)

Massachusettensis (1126999) | about 3 years ago | (#35693564)

Didn't even RTFS. Just the subject had me rolling, remembering the tale of a VOICE controlled prosthetic arm. It's #392, in case you haven't hear it.

What is it with Canada and robotic arms? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#35694138)

The Canada arm, now this.....can't we (i'm Canadian) do something better then a freakin' arm?! :S

Re:What is it with Canada and robotic arms? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#35697610)

+1 insightful

I have a brain implant from scientology (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#35695104)

Now that is invasive surgery

It's animal cruelty sign a petition

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