Although still in the testing phase, Zac Vawter, a software engineer who lives in the Seattle area, has received a bionic leg that he can control using his thoughts.
The researchers rewired Vawter, redirecting two of the critical severed nerves into his hamstring, the muscle at the back of the leg. When he thinks about moving his knee or ankle, those nerves still fire, releasing a tiny burst of electricity.
Sensors taped on to the legs capture the signals. That data is added to a pattern-detection computer system that takes information from the robotic leg to predict the patients intended movement. While the researchers expected the additional information to make the leg operate more smoothly, the magnitude of the benefit was unexpected, they wrote in the New England Journal. Many errors werent even noticeable.
The researchers measured nine muscles in the leg and analyzed the activities that were most important for regular function, Hargrove said. When Vawter performs any of those activities, the computer program predicts what he is doing.
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