A double amputee has been given a set of robotic arms that can be controlled by his mind. Les Baugh of Colorado, who lost his arms 40 years ago, has gained the cybernetic limbs as part of the Revolutionising Prosthetics Program run by John Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory.
After 10 years of work, the program has developed what it calls Modular Prosthetic Limbs, but the researchers say that Baugh is the “first bilateral shoulder-level amputee” to wear two MPLs simultaneously. The MPLs are connected to Baugh’s nervous system using a procedure called ‘targeted muscle reinnervation’ which hooks directly into the nerves that used to control his arms and hands.
The team helped teach Baugh to use the arms, and his progress was remarkable. He was picking up and moving cups within 10 days of operating his new limbs. As Courtney Moran, a researcher with the John Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, puts it:
We expected him to exceed performance compared to what he might achieve with conventional systems, but the speed with which he learned motions and the number of motions he was able to control in such a short period of time was far beyond expectation. What really was amazing, and was another major milestone with MPL control, was his ability to control a combination of motions across both arms at the same time. This was a first for simultaneous bimanual control.
So far, Baugh has only been able to use the arms under laboratory conditions. The research team hope to develop a version he can use at home.