Researchers and scientists have been working for years to develop artificial limbs that function like a natural limb. This research has been going on for years and has resulted in varying degrees of success. One of the biggest challenges facing amputees and researchers in developing new robotic limbs is finding ways to control the limb.
A group of researchers led by a biomedical engineer named Levi Hargrove at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago in Illinois has created a robotic leg controlled by the wearers brain. The man using the robotic leg is a 32-year-old who lost his knee and lower leg in 2009 after a motorcycle accident. The man is apparently the first person ever to control a robotic leg using his mind.
The big advance for this robotic limb is the fact that no large muscle movements are required to control the leg and no remote control switch. The leg also doesn't require the user to reposition it when he sits down. The technology used in this robotic leg uses muscle signals to amplify and control messages sent by the brain when the person wants to move.
Surgeons redirected nerves that controlled the man's lower leg muscles to cause a muscle in the thigh to contract. The surgical technique is called targeted muscle reinnervation. With the nurse redirected the researchers used sensors embedded in robotic leg to measure the impulses created by the muscle contractions to allow more accurate control and using sensors alone. The researchers hope that other people with missing limbs will be able to take advantage of this technology within the next 3 to 5 years.