Erik Sorto is 34 years old, quadriplegic for more than ten years, yet he has just regained part of his autonomy thanks to a test program involving the implantation of a neuroprosthesis in his brain to allow him to control a robotic arm.
Piloting a robotic prosthesis with thought will soon become a common solution that could allow people with reduced mobility to regain their autonomy.
The advantage of this technique discussed here is that the movements of the robotic arm are done without jerks, unlike the majority of other prostheses controlled by thought developed so far.
For this, the neuroprosthesis was implanted in the area of ??the brain where the intentions of the patient are formed, the posterior parietal cortex. Erik Sorto is thus able to control the arm by thought to achieve handshakes, carry a glass of water and even play stone-leaf-scissors.
Dr. Richard Andersen, professor of neurology at Caltech and author of the research specifies that "The posterior parietal cortex is located upstream in the process leading to a movement, which means that the signals are more related to the intention to act than to the actual execution of the movement".
This system should make it possible to limit the learning phase imposed on patients equipped with thought-controlled prostheses. Until now, they had to train themselves to think of series of movements associated with reactions produced by their prosthesis. By simply thinking of movement, the actions here are faster, more fluid and natural.
"When you move your arm, you don't really think which muscle to activate and the detailed course of the movement such as raising your arm, extending it, grabbing a cup and closing your hand around it."
The neural implant tested here was placed in 2013 on the patient. The latter explains "I was surprised at how easily I could control the arm. I remember feeling like I got out of my body and wanted to shake hands with everyone."
Next step in the development of these interfaces: to succeed in producing implants which will be more easily accepted by the human body, but which will also resist the formation of scar tissue which comes to disturb their functioning in the medium and long term.