MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — This story may sound like science fiction, but it’s reality, and it’s created in Minnesota.
We’ve all seen the fantasy-based images, like Luke Skywalker or the Terminator, of bionic beings. But now, thanks to a few penny-sized chips installed in the University of Minnesota’s engineering lab, the fantasy has become reality.
It comes in the form of a robotic arm designed for people who have lost theirs, like Cameron Slaven who lives in Texas.
“It was pretty awful, it was a factory incident,” Slaven said. “I was working with a machine and it basically crushed my hand and part of my arm and they had to amputate me.”
He heard about a lawsuit at U of M with Jules Anh Tuan Nguyen and his teacher Zhi Yang; they started the research 10 years ago in Singapore.
“They are amazing. The work they do is out of this world, bordering on the miraculous,” Slaven said.
Slaven was frustrated with the current electric arms which are controlled by muscles that have to be triggered by him, making certain movements difficult. Those created at the U are connected to the nerves.
“The computer and the mind interact, understand each other, and it will allow the patient (to be able) to control the prosthesis in a natural way. So, it is a natural movement; they can move their natural arm with just their brain”, explained Nguyen.
They use artificial technology similar to that which does facial recognition to interpret what the brain is saying and tell the hand what to do.
Nguyen says the new technology reads the patient’s mind, and quickly. The brain sends information to a neuro-interface. It’s translated with the AI, then the hand moves, and it all happens in 10 milliseconds.
After a dozen trips to the Twin Cities, it happened for Slaven. Nguyen says it was emotional for everyone.
“We call it ‘five finger day’, it’s the day we got it working properly,” he said.
Also a day that gave Slaven improved mobility – and hope.
“It was so exciting and so fun to be a part of, it really was. I don’t know another word. But it’s bigger than that. It’s fun and reassuring and it’s exciting and it’s just on an emotional level,” Slaven said. “It’s just awesome, it’s awesome. In a word, it’s just awesome.
The technology is just taking hold and it is hoped that the industry will catch up.
“We were joking that it’s going to cost you an arm and a leg,” Nguyen says. “At least $100,000 per model.”
For now, however, they will continue to experiment with people like Slaven, whose fantasy is already coming true.
“I don’t know how to say thank you enough that they’re trying and taking leaps and bounds,” Slaven said.
Anyone interested in joining the study Slaven is a part of in the future can contact Edward Keefer or call 858-205-0206.