Tim Hemmes, a man who was left paralyzed after a motorcycle accident, has managed to move a robot hand attached to his wheelchair only with the use of his mind. Moving a robot hand towards his girlfriend was a success for both the man and for the team of scientists at the University of Pittsburgh, who led and monitored the experiment, Associated Press reports.
Tim Hemmes was a perfectly normal man until seven years ago, when he suffered an accident that left him quadriplegic. One evening in 2004 he was riding his motorcycle when at one point a deer came in front of him. He swerved to miss it and hit a guardrail. He broke his neck and was left paralyzed from his shoulders down. Since that time, his ultimate goal is to get back the use of his hands. “I always tell people your legs are great … but they just get you from here to there”, Tim says, but “the arms and fingers and hands do everything else”.
His great luck was the possibility of joining the volunteers testing the 100 million dollar project for DARPA, the research agency of the Pentagon. The project revolved around constructing a robot arm that moves on the command of the human mind. For this, Hemmes, who is 30 years old, underwent a brain surgery, where electrodes were implanted in his brain, to record the electrical signals. Those signals are then sent through connecting wires to the hand. Hemmes’s electrodes were implanted on the surface of his motor cortex and the intervention lasted about two hours.
The first days after the operation, Hemmes was assigned to simply get used to the robotic arm. He had no significant tasks. But the following week, he had to command the hand to reach to a ball and grasp it. The experiment turned into frustration for the man, as his hand would to the exact opposite of what he wanted. After several attempts, he managed to complete the task. “There’s no owner’s manual, I’m training my brain to figure how to do all this”, he said.
On Monday, Tim managed to reach out and touch with his new hand the hand of his girlfriend, Katie Schaffer. It was the first time he has ever reached to her, as they met after his accident. It was a highly emotional moment for both of them. “I believe this is the future,” Hemmes says thrilled about the new perspectives opening up in front of him. “Just let people know there’s hope.”