Researchers hoping new robotic technology, brain implant will help amputees

Microchip could move robitic arm by thinking

SAN DIEGO - Robotic arms aren't anything new, but researchers for the National Institutes of Health hope one day a microchip implanted in the brain might power that robotic arm with a wireless digital signal.

"It's a dream as an amputee that one day you'll be able to have that function just like you did when you had two hands," said Richard Rodriguez, who manages the prosthetics department for the Department of Veteran Affairs in La Jolla.

In 1984, Rodriguez was behind the wheel of a two-and-a-half ton truck in the Marine Corps when it rolled over. The crash cost him his left arm.

Rodriguez was first fitted with a hook, and then a prosthetic arm, which didn't do anything for him. He then began using a mechanical device that uses his muscles to move a robotic arm.  

"If I flare my muscles, it knows to turn my hand, then open and close it," he said.  

What the NIH is working on is a robotic arm that, through an implanted chip, would recreate the same movement in a bionic arm just by thinking about moving it.  

The implant is still in clinical trials, but the hope is to get it approved sooner rather than later.  

For Rodriguez and others like him, he said, "Never in my day did I ever think I would be able to have the function I have, and I hope I see the day for what they are working on now."

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