Forty years ago, Les Baugh lost both arms following an electrical accident. Recently, Baugh received not just a pair of prosthetic arms, but ones that he can control using his mind, thanks to Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and Johns Hopkins Universitys Applied Physics Laboratory.
Baugh is the first amputee to receive the two modular prosthetic limbs (MPL), which ensures his name goes down on history books. All he needs to do to control it is think about moving them.
"It's a relatively new surgical procedure that reassigns nerves that once controlled the arm and the hand," John Hopkins Trauma Surgeon Albert Chi said.
"By reassigning existing nerves, we can make it possible for people who have had upper-arm amputations to control their prosthetic devices by merely thinking about the action they want to perform," Chi adds.
According to Chi, they have used pattern recognition algorithms in identifying the contraction of various individual muscles. They also took note of their frequency, amplitude, and how they communicated with one another. They have used this information and transformed it into actual movements of a prosthetic limb. The MPLs are not permanently attached; Baugh wears a "socket" where the prosthetic limbs can be attached. He is limited to use the prosthetic limbs inside the laboratory at the moment.
The prosthetics are being tested in the laboratory and usual day to day tasks are being simulated.
"This was significant because this is not possible with currently available prostheses. He was able to do this with only 10 days of training, which demonstrates the intuitive nature of the control," Courtney Moran, an APL prosthetist explains.
"Maybe I'll be able to -- for once -- be able to put change in a pop machine and get the pop out of it. Simple things like that that most people never think of," Baugh says in a video.
While prosthetics promise a brighter tomorrow for those who have lost their limbs, not everyone is impressed by it. According to a research done by the University of Manchester in 2013, many would rather see robotic hands than prosthetics.