“Gentlemen (and women), we can rebuild him. We have the technology.” This infamous line from the movie Six Million Dollar Man may actually be a reality. Believe it or not, scientists and researchers have actually found a way to create a communication pathway between the brain and a computer or robotic arm.
Paralysis takes away the joy of simple acts, such as giving a high-five or hugging and reaching out to loved ones, from people unable to use their arms due to paralysis. Not to mention, paralysis leaves a person unable to feed and clothe themselves or be fully independent. But with this new technology, Tim Hemmes was able to reach out to his girlfriend, just by thinking about it.
Paralyzed after a motorcycle accident, Hemmes is among a small and determined group in Pittsburgh resolute in giving mobility and independence back to those who are paralyzed, helping them do anything from turn a doorknob to feed themselves.
Hemmes told CBS, “I always tell people your legs are great … but they just get you from here to there. Your arms and fingers and hands do everything else. I have to get those back, I absolutely have to.”
The robotic arm Hemmes controlled is not attached to the body, yet. Stationary next to his wheelchair, Hemmes uses surgically implanted electrodes in his brain to communicate to the arm.
According to Dr. Elizabeth Tyler-Kabara, the neurons in the area of the brain that generate signals in able bodied people are still there in someone who has a spinal cord injury and they still fire, even when a paralyzed person imagines doing something. Hemmes had to practice for weeks before he could actually attempt to use the arm.
Tyler-Kabara said that the goal of doing this research and performing this test is to gather the information that the neurons are firing and feed it into a computer system.
It does not matter that the robotic arm, is just that, a robot. All that mattered to Hemmes was that he was using his own thoughts to control what he wanted. He was able to reach out to someone, something he had not done in over seven years.