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OSU Researchers Create Thought-Controlled Robot Limbs

Thursday, November 13, 2014


People with disabilities may soon be able to supplement their loss of mobility by taking advantage of recent technological breakthroughs, according to researchers from Oregon State University’s robotics program.

Many of the prosthetics currently being developed allow a patient to feel sensations and control an artificial body part using only their mind, as if the mechanical device was a natural part of their body. Other aspects of the research include the use of robotic exoskeletons that would allow a person with limited mobility to regain their ability to walk by wearing the device on the outside of their legs.

Dr. Ravi Balasubramanian is the director of the Robotics and Human Control Systems research laboratory at Oregon State, where he and his team of researchers actively develop mechanical components —  pulleys and gears — to be used in prosthetic devices. The goal of his researchers is to gain a deeper understanding of how robotics can be controlled by the human body and mind.

“We want to use these (components) to connect to muscles and tissue in the human body,” Balasubramanian said. “So there is no need for any external use of force or external control.”

Dylan Haney, who earned his Bachelor of Science degree from Oregon State in 2011, said, “It’s pretty amazing how broad the applications are.”

A Swedish man was recently given a mechanical prosthetic arm that doctors mounted to the bone, according to The Independent. The man reportedly has full control over the dexterity of his hand. Meanwhile, an American patient has reportedly felt sensations of touch in his artificial hand, according to Tribune-Review.

With unprecedented levels of innovation and funding, Dylan said he thinks it’s only a matter of time before treatments involving robotics become visibly common.

“With crowdfunding and the way things are going—  if it was 10 years ago, I would have said we’re about 20 years out. Now I would just say we’re 10 to 15,” Dylan said.

Regardless of how soon robotics can become a common component of medical care, the subject will continue to be extensively researched for a prolonged period of time, according to Balasubramanian.

“This combination of human movement and robotics is going to be a very exciting area of work for the next 25 years,” Balasubramanian said.

Oregon State University has doubled down on its investments in robotics research by being accepted for federally-awarded grants and also establishing a new graduate degree. This fall marked the inaugural term of the new program. OSU is said to be among the top robotics schools in the nation along with Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburg and the University of California at Berkeley.


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