Meet Robo Sally: Only Your Brain Moves this Artificial Limb

By Shlomo Maital  

 Robo Sally

   A great many people, especially soldiers injured in war, need prosthetic arms.  The ultimate goal has been to create a robotic arm that replicates the human arm, controlled only by brain waves sent through nerves, just the way real limbs work.

    Now:  thanks to CBS News’ 60 Minutes:   Meet “Robo Sally.”  “She is the most sophisticated robotic hand and arm ever engineered.     Complicated physical tasks are no problem for Sally. Her arms are the same size and weight of a man’s arms — and every bit as strong. She can curl up to 50 pounds, and her agile fingers, each containing a high-efficiency mini-motor, can squeeze 20 pounds of pinch force. “  The device was funded by the U.S. Defense Department and much of the work was done at John Hopkins’ Applied Physics lab. 

    It is sad, but inevitable perhaps, that the Defense Department had to motivate the research by saying it is developing a remote device for disarming explosive devices without endangering soldiers’ hands.  Apparently, thousands of wartime amputees are not reason enough for Congress.

  In a pioneering operation, a University of Pittsburgh brain surgeon placed two tiny sensors in the area of a woman’s brain that controls arm movements.  Those sensors were then connected to the prosthetic robotic arm, through two small terminals on the top of her head.   The woman, Jan Schuermann, who has no arms, is now able (after practice) to do incredible things with her prosthetic arm,  using only her thoughts.  She is even able to ‘feel’ textures, and discriminate between, say, a balloon and a hard baseball. 

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