The robot is running on signals detected by sensors implanted in the part of Hutchinson’s brain that would normally control the movements of her right arm. The sensors pick up the sparking of nerve cells and send the signals to the computer which then translates them into commands for the robotic arm. Suddenly Hutchinson is able to do something she could only dream of before: As she thinks about getting herself a drink, the arm reaches over to the bottle and brings it to her lips, where she is able to sip the drink from a straw.
It’s the first time Hutchinson’s been able to do anything for herself since the stroke.
Hutchinson’s experiences, along with those of another quadriplegic patient, were described in a groundbreaking paper published Wednesday in Nature. Both patients are part of an ongoing government funded trial that is testing the new brain translation technology, BrainGate, which one day may free “locked-in” patients like Hutchinson and give functional limbs to amputees.