That must have been one great-tasting beer

Credit: Brain Decoder screen shot

One man’s seemingly simple act of drinking a beer has raised hopes about the potential for people with limited mobility to regain some independence.

Californian Erik G. Sorto, paralyzed from the neck down more than 10 years ago, was able to will a robotic arm to smoothly move a glass of cold beer to his lips (video below).

The technology that helped him do that is a chip implanted in the posterior parietal cortex, the part of the brain that processes intentions. It’s the first time a chip was implanted in that part of the brain. Currently, chips are implanted in the motor cortex, the part of the brain that controls movement. But the results have been stilted, jerky movements.

The brain chip implants are part of a clinical collaboration between Caltech, Keck Medicine of USC and Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center.

“This research is relevant to the role of robotics and brain-machine interfaces as assistive devices, but also speaks to the ability of the brain to learn to function in new ways,” said neurologist Mindy Aisen, chief medical officer at Rancho Los Amigos. “We have created a unique environment that can seamlessly bring together rehabilitation, medicine, and science as exemplified in this study.”

The results of the clinical trial appear in the May 22, 2015, edition of the journal Science.

Sorto’s success is only the beginning. According to the Washington Post:

Researchers are working on all manner of silicon-based devices that go inside the body and manipulate the body’s signals to create motion. They believe these chips will not only be able to help those with paralysis one day -- but also usher in a new era of robot adjuncts controlled by someone’s thoughts that will be able to perform all manner of jobs from lifting dangerous objects to filing papers.

In the long term, the technology could mean greater independence for people with disabilities. And that’s something we could all raise a glass to.

This story, "That must have been one great-tasting beer" was originally published by Fritterati.