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Amputees control bionic legs with their thoughts

Wednesday, May 20, 2015 - 02:08

Mind-bending technology allows amputees to control their bionic prosthetic limbs with their thoughts. Amy Pollock reports.

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Gummi Olafsson doesn't have to think about how his foot moves. That's despite sporting a bionic prosthethic leg. He felt the new sense of control over his bionic limb almost instantly. (SOUNDBITE) (English) PATIENT, GUMMI OLAFSSON, SAYING: "As soon as I put my foot on, it took me about 10 minutes to get control of it. I could stand up and just walk away." It's all thanks to tiny sensors in his remaining leg muscle picking up the brain's signals to nerve-endings and linked to a receiver in his prosthesis. Ossur's Thorvaldur Ingvarsson performed the surgical procedure to insert the sensors in patients. (SOUNDBITE) (English) OSSUR DIRECTOR OF RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT AND ORTHOPAEDIC SURGEON, THORVALDUR INGVARSSON, SAYING: "We put sensors into the muscles, and the muscles would pick up the signals, and the signals move their way into the prosthetics, and then the prosthetics react as your brain wants." Ossur, a prosthetics specialist, uses implanted myoelectric sensors developed in the United States combined with its own bionic limbs. The Icelandic company says it's the first time amputees have ever been able to control lower-limb prostheses subconsciously. Patients will soon be able to 'upgrade' existing prosthetics and control them using their minds. In the future, the sensors could be developed to react to the environment. (SOUNDBITE) (English) OSSUR DIRECTOR OF RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT AND ORTHOPAEDIC SURGEON, THORVALDUR INGVARSSON, SAYING: "Our ultimate goal is to replace the function of the lost limb. The next step might be to get sensing from the environment so you have a feedback loop." For now, Gummi's body is still adapting to the responsive prosthetic. (SOUNDBITE)(English) PATIENT, GUMMI OLAFSSON, SAYING: "Everyday if you are using it, you're always getting more and more control over what you're doing with your foot, so in a way, everyday you're learning more about how to walk properly with the foot, how to use it to go downhill, uphill, downstairs, upstairs, even sitting down and standing up from a chair." Ossur plans to extend trials of their mind-controlled bionic limb beyond Gummi and a second patient. They say it brings amputees a step closer to truly integrating their prostheses with their bodies.

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Amputees control bionic legs with their thoughts

Wednesday, May 20, 2015 - 02:08