60 Minutes Recap 12/30/2012: Robotic Arms Controlled By Thoughts

60 Minutes looks into the revolutionary advancement in Robotic Limbs that promise to give amputees more freedom than they have ever had before. The show opens by talking about Jan Sherman. She is a very smart woman that has seen success on such game shows as Wheel Of Fortune. She suffered a genetic problem that changed all that and it left her bedridden. Now Andy Schwartz is researching the way the brain sends signals to our limbs. He has found a way to implant sensors into human brains and is showing great success.

The Applied Physics Laboratory started working on the actual robotic arm and it is the same size and weight of a real arm. It is an almost perfect prosthetic. Jan Sherman volunteered for experimental brain surgery to implant the sensors to test this new robotic arm. There are dangers like causing blood vessels to burst and the risk of infection when the brain is exposed to the outside world. Jan got two sensors in her brain and they were wired to the computer that controls the robotic arm.

Jan says she had headaches for a while and she wondered if she had made the right decision. Now we see the results as Jan is controlling the robotic arm with her mind. Just like a real arm. She has a sense of touch that allows her to grip lightly or hard depending on the situation. Jan says it is just like having her regular limbs but it did take a bit of getting used to.

Science has made a huge leap in helping people that have lost limbs. Amputees are being connected to the robotic limbs through the old nerve connections. We see an amputee that says he feels like his regular arm is there again. Johnny, the volunteer, actually can feel the things he is touching because the nerves send signals both ways. The hope is that this will go beyond just limbs and there is hope that these robotic devices will expand to cover eyes and other things.

The future is within reach here. Jan says it best when she says that there are paraplegics everywhere looking at this new technology with great hope of being able to move around again. The Official project is called Bomb Diffusing Sally and it was started by the defense department to help give soldiers a way to deal with bombs that would put them at a lower risk. It has so many other possibilities though that the civilian implications look to overshadow the military use of robotic limbs.

Photo courtesy of CBS


  1. Jacob Baldwin June 2, 2013
  2. Donna Elliott December 30, 2012

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