Double Amputee Makes History By Controlling Two Robotic Arms With His Mind

Colorado man Les Baugh has made history with two bionic arms attached at shoulder level, controlled by his thoughts alone. This makes him the first bilateral amputee in the world to do this. 

After a freak accident 40 years ago, Les got his new arms this summer as part of the Revolutionizing Prosthetics Program program at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory. To make this possible, researchers have been developing the Modular Prosthetic Limbs (MPL) over the last 10 years to bring thought controlled limbs to life.

Transmitting thoughts into movement is done differently to what has happened before. Usually, the plan is to wear a pair of neural implants to control the arm, but Les Baugh went through a procedure called targeted muscle reinnervation. Simply put, his nerves that controlled his arms and hands were reassigned to the virtual limb.

This was done by recording his brain patterns during asking him to move his muscles. After this they had him control virtual arms to prepare for the real prosthetics, which contained custom built sockets to fit with his torso (as his arms were cut off from the shoulder). 

Amazingly, Baugh picked it up just after 10 days of training, moving cups to different shelves with the power of his mind. "We expected him to exceed performance compared to what he might achieve with conventional systems, but the speed with which he learned motions and the number of motions he was able to control in such a short period of time was far beyond expectation," Courtney Moran, one of the researchers commented. 

"What really was amazing, and was another major milestone with MPL control, was his ability to control a combination of motions across both arms at the same time. This was a first for simultaneous bimanual control."

In terms of next steps, the team plan to take the MPLs out of the lab, and give Baugh a pair arms for around the home and in general life.