A Colorado man is now the first shoulder level double-amputee to successfully receive and operate two robotic Modular Prosthetic Limbs (MPLs), according to a Tuesday announcement from Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory. Through a combination of cutting edge robotics, 3D scanning, pattern recognition algorithms, and a new type of neural surgery, Les Baugh can control both arms at once, simply by thinking about their movements.
The surgery is a relatively new procedure called targeted muscle reinnervation, which reassigned the nerve endings in Baugh’s arms. After the procedure, the Johns Hopkins team had to train Baugh’s mind and muscles to give him control over a brain-computer interface, using a pattern recognition algorithm to analyze the muscle movements that correspond to Baugh’s intentions. Other key elements that went into installing the MPLs include a full-body scan that informed the design of the torso socket (which anchors the limbs to the body), and a virtual reality training system that Baugh used to get the hang of the interface.
“I think we are just getting started. It’s like the early days of the Internet,” said RP Principal Investigator Michael McLoughlin in a press release. “There is just a tremendous amount of potential ahead of us, and we’ve just started down this road. And I think the next five-to-ten years are going to bring phenomenal advancement.”
Baugh lost his limbs 40 years ago in an electrical accident. His case is the first time a brain-computer interface has been able to control two separate limbs simultaneously. “Maybe for once I’ll be able to put change in the pop machine and get pop out of it,” Baugh said, anticipating doing “simple things that most people don’t think of. And it’s re-available to me.”