Technology with attitude

The first person with two mind-controlled prosthetic arms (VIDEO)

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A Colorado man, Leslie Baugh, who lost both arms in an electrical accident 40 years ago, has become the first shoulder-level amputee to wear and simultaneously control a pair of mind-controlled prosthetic arms.

While Baugh isn’t the first person to control robotic limbs with his mind, dual-control has never been tried before. The new technology is called Modular Prosthetic Limbs (MPL) and has been under development at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) for more than a decade. While other patients are already using the limbs, this marks the first time that both arms have been successfully used.

In order to attach the limbs to Baugh’s shoulders, it required him to undergo targeted muscle reinnervation, a surgery that shifts the nerves that used to control arms and hands into your pectoral muscles where their electrical signals are picked up through the prosthetic arms’ arms mount harness.

“It’s a relatively new surgical procedure that reassigns nerves that once controlled the arm and the hand,” explained Johns Hopkins Trauma Surgeon Albert Chi, M.D. “By reassigning existing nerves, we can make it possible for people who have had upper-arm amputations to control their prosthetic devices by merely thinking about the action they want to perform.”

APL prosthetist Courtney Moran looks on as Les Baugh tests out the Modular Prosthetic Limbs.

The researchers involved were impressed at how quickly he mastered the arms. After just ten days, he was performing fairly complicated movements, like for example, transferring an empty cup between shelves, a task requiring eight different motions. This is extraordinary, in part, because Baugh lost his arms 40 years ago.

“It’s like the early days of the Internet,” said Michael McLoughlin, Johns Hopkins principal investor. “I think the next five to 10 years are going to bring phenomenal advancement.”

While the technology is in its infancy stage, APL’s researchers hope to send Baugh home with a pair of these prosthetics soon, so that he can see how they integrate with his everyday life.

More on this story: jhuapl.edu

Baugh completes a task showcasing his control of the MPL.