Researchers at Imperial School London and the College of Freiburg, working alongside different members of the Non-invasive Interface for Motion Augmentation (NIMA) undertaking, are trying to offer you a leg up — by, probably, supplying you with an addition leg, or arm, or thumb, or different limb, managed utilizing spare neural capability.
“What could you do with an extra limb? Consider a surgeon performing a delicate operation, one that needs her expertise and steady hands — all three of them. As her two biological hands manipulate surgical instruments, a third robotic limb that’s attached to her torso plays a supporting role,” the analysis workforce, together with senior creator Dario Farina, write in a joint piece for IEEE Spectrum on their work.
A seemingly unused high-frequency element to motor neuron alerts may give individuals a serving to hand — actually. (📷: Bräcklein et al)
“Or picture a construction worker who is thankful for his extra robotic hand as it braces the heavy beam he’s fastening into place with his other two hands,” the workforce continues. “Imagine wearing an exoskeleton that would let you handle multiple objects simultaneously, like Spider-Man’s Dr. Octopus. Or contemplate the out-there music a composer could write for a pianist who has 12 fingers to spread across the keyboard.”
Whereas the proposed use-cases are, maybe, presently extra science-fiction than science-fact, it is a future the workforce is aiming to see created — working with the NIMA undertaking to drive human augmentation to new ranges. Merely strapping a robotic limb to an individual, although, is not sufficient — you want a approach to management it that does not contain tying up your current limbs, rendering the addition extra of a hindrance than a assist.
Within the workforce’s most up-to-date work, it particulars a wearable system for monitoring the spiking exercise of motor neurons throughout two frequencies. The low frequency band is answerable for truly making the muscle transfer, whereas the excessive frequency band isn’t — permitting topics within the check to set off the sensor and transfer exterior gadgets with out inflicting their legs to do the identical. “Results indicate that beta projections to the spinal motor neuron pool can be voluntarily controlled partially decoupled from natural muscle contractions,” the researchers clarify, “and, therefore, they could be valid control signals for implementing effective human motor augmentation platforms.”
A easy muscle sensor, worn on the leg, picks up each low- and high-frequency alerts, splitting them for separate makes use of. (📷: Bräcklein et al)
The workforce discovered that the check topics have been in a position to be taught to management the seemingly-useless high-frequency alerts independently of the muscle-moving low-frequency alerts — however admits that “control was not accurate enough for practical use,” with enhancing the accuracy a key a part of future work forward of utilizing it to management an precise robotic supernumerary limb.
Extra info is offered within the IEEE Spectrum article, whereas particulars of the dual-frequency motor neuron experiment have been printed within the Journal of Neural Engineering below open-access phrases.