EEG Controlled Prosthetic Legs – Now A Reality

$6 million dollar man – move over.  New developments are bringing the merging of man and machine ever closer to reality.   The holy grail of prosthetic limbs is having the limb work much as biological limbs do, thorough a series of mind and muscle control cues.  Research in the field of mind controlled limbs seems to have focused on arm for the most part, but the good people at Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Long Beach, California are working on solving the problems related to mind controlled legs.  Some of their recent findings are the cause of excitement.

The prosthetic legs being developed buy the team are currently being controlled by EEG signals.   EEG – which stands for Electroencephalography, is the reading of electrical signals as measured along the scalp.  The method measures voltage fluctuations which result from neuron activity in the brain.  EEG is not the direct reading of brainwaves –so using EEG to control a prosthetic makes the whole process rather limited.  In the case of the mind control technique developed by the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Long Beach, this amounts to the ability to start and stop.

One exciting development that the researchers have reported is that the EEG technique has been rated at a success rate of 100% for its intended function.  In other words. as it relates to stopping and starting, the intended function of the test, the technique produced a 100% success rate with no false alarms.  These positive results gave researchers the confidence to move forward with additional physical controls, such as turning and sitting.

In a video compiled by the research team, a test subject can be seen using the technology to walk on a treadmill, using thoughts to command the prosthetics to start and stop.  The current tests have been only carried out using able bodied test subjects, though the technology is obviously being developed to assist those who are physically impaired.

The future for mind controlled prosthetics is limitless.  Far from being just a way for the disabled to regain part or all of their faculties, the field will without doubt see growth not just in enhancing the capabilities of able bodied people, but also in the development of mind controlled machines.  Though this technology currently relies on EEG signals, which are a sort of brain wave by-product, future mind controlled prosthetics may be able to more directly read actual brain waves, giving the user a greater degree of control and freedom.

For now, brain controlled prosthetics are in the infancy.  The video released by the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Long Beach shoes a somewhat clunky looking contraption, with the wearer suspended by a harness – presumably to prevent injury.  So, while the future of the field is bright, there remains a lot of work to be done to get the techniques just right.  Expect further breakthroughs in the field.   With thousands of wounded veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the field of mind controlled prosthetics has taken on a new prominence and urgency.

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