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Brain implants let paralyzed man move robotic arm

Devices link thoughts in action-planning part of brain to an artificial limb

By
2:00pm, May 21, 2015
Erik Sorto controls a blender with a robotic arm

JUICED UP  With brain implants and his thoughts, quadriplegic Erik Sorto makes a robotic hand grasp a control to switch on a blender and make a smoothie. 

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A paralyzed man can now make a robotic arm do some smooth moves. Tiny silicon chips embedded in an action-planning part of his brain let the man control the arm easily and fluidly with his thoughts, scientists report in the May 22 Science.

“This is groundbreaking,” says neural engineer Bradley Greger of Arizona State University in Tempe. “It’s going into a new area of the brain and tapping into high-level thoughts.”  

Researchers have previously tapped into the motor cortex, the brain region that tells muscles to move, to steer thought-controlled robotic limbs (SN: 6/16/12, p. 5). But years of researching a different region, the posterior parietal cortex, or PPC, convinced Caltech neuroscientist Richard Andersen to try something new.

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