It’s absolutely fascinating to see the future unfold in front of our eyes. For Leslie Baugh, who lost both his arms at the shoulders in a horrific electrical accident 40 years ago, what was once only imagined in movies and television has become a part of reality.
Researchers at the John’s Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory have been developing Modular prosthetic limbs, or robotic arms, as part of the Revolutionary Prosthetics Program which aims to replicate the functions and abilities of real limbs.
Les Baugh has become the first bilateral amputee at the shoulder level to gain control of two robotic prosthetic arms fixed to his body, using his mind. The robotic arms are connected to the nerves in Baugh’s upper torso and shoulders. These prosthetic devices are controlled by merely thinking about the task they want to be performed.
Baugh had to undergo a series of experiments on how to use the new bionic arms. First, he was subjected to the APL’s pattern recognition system, which uses pattern recognition algorithms to identify individual muscles that contract during movement and this information is then translated into actual prosthetic movements.
In the next phase the team had to design a custom socket for his torso as his arms were cut off from the shoulder. The socket was connected with the reassigned nerves, and acts as a support bracket for the prosthetic limbs. Baugh was trained to use the limbs through a virtual-reality version of the limbs, allowing the team to fine-tune the custom socket.
Only after such experiments and surgery could Baugh be fitted with the robotic limbs- with which he was able to perform several tasks. One such task was putting a ball in a bowl. He could even manipulate the arms simultaneously, which is the first time that such an act has been accomplished through mind control.
Unfortunately, Baugh can only use the arms in APL research lab, but the team aims to send Baugh home with the modular prosthetic limbs so that he can use whenever he wants.