A new 3D-printed prosthetic hand paired with AI has been developed by Biological Systems Lab at Hiroshima University in Japan. This new technology can dramatically change the way prosthetics work. It is another step in the direction of combining both the physical human body with artificial intelligence, something that we are most definitely heading towards.
The 3D-printed prosthetic hand has been paired with a computer interface to create the lightest and cheapest model yet. This version is the most reactive to motion intent that we have seen. Before the current model, they were normally made from metal which caused them to be both heavier and more expensive. The way this new technology works is by a neural network that is trained to recognize certain combined signals, these signals have been named “muscle synergies” by the engineers working on the project.
The prosthetic hand has five independent fingers that can make complex movements. Compared to previous models, these fingers are able to move around more as well as all at the same time. These developments make it possible for the hand to be used for tasks like holding items such bottles and pens. Whenever the user of the technology wants to move the hand or fingers in a certain way, they only have to imagine it. Professor Toshio Tsuji of the Graduate School of Engineering at Hiroshima University explained the way a user can move the 3D-printed hand.
“The patient just thinks about the motion of the hand and then the robot automatically moves. The robot is like a part of his body. You can control the robot as you want. We will combine the human body and machine like one living body.”
The 3D-printed hand works when electrodes in the prosthetic measures electrical signals that come from nerves through the skin. It can be compared to the way ECG and heart rates work. The measured signals are then sent to a computer within five milliseconds at which point the computer recognizes the desired movement. The computer then sends the signal back to the hand.
There is a neural network that helps the computer learn the different complex movements, it has been named Cybernetic Interface. It can differentiate between the 5 fingers so that there can be individual movements. Professor Tsuji also spoke on this aspect of the new technology.
“This is one of the distinctive features of this project. The machine can learn simple basic motions and then combine and then produce complicated motions.”
The technology was tested among seven people, and one of the seven was an amputee who has been wearing a prosthesis for 17 years. The patients performed daily tasks, and they had a 95% accuracy rate for single simple motion and a 93% rate for complex movements. The prosthetics that were used in this specific test were only trained for 5 different movements with each finger; there could be many more complex movements in the future. With just these 5 trained movements, the amputee patient was able to pick up and put down things like bottles an notebooks.
There are numerous possibilities for this technology. It could decrease cost while providing extremely functional prosthetic hands to amputee patients. There are still some problems like muscle fatigue and the capability of software recognizing many complex movements.
This work was completed by Hiroshima University Biological Systems Engineering Lab along with patients from the Robot Rehabilitation Center in the Hygo Institute of Assistive Technology, Kobe. The company Kinki Gishi was responsible for creating the socket which was used on the arm of the amputee patient.
Elon Musk, Neuralink, and Brain-Machine Interfaces
On Tuesday night, thousands watched the internet live-stream presentation of Neuralink. The three-hour event was the company’s first public presentation. Musk and his team showed the different aspects of the world-changing technology. The new brain-AI connection is something that has been pursued by scientists for years. While it was always strictly research, it will now be used on humans.
Neuralink was founded in 2016 by Elon Musk with the hope of one day integrating human and AI as one through implantable brain-machine interfaces (BMIs). The company has employed many high-profile neuroscientists and researchers, a lot of them coming from Universities. By July 2019, the company had $158 million in funding, much of it coming from Elon Musk himself. They currently employ about 90 employees.
The new Neuralink chip will collect signals in the brain with many thin wires. The company has produced what they call a safe and extremely small interface that is able to be implemented into the brain. It is small enough that it won’t cause any damage or trauma. Before Neuralink, brain-interface has shown results, especially with parlyzed individuals being able to move robotic limbs with their minds, but it was very complicated, included big wires, and had to be supervised by a scientist. Neuralink aims to make it safe, small, and able to be used without supervision.
The processor is a very small computer chip that is able to take electrical noise from neurons and turn it into clear digital signals. The chip only has one job, so it is very efficient and uses a small amount of energy. There is no need to change batteries or anything of the kind; it can last a long time. According to Andrew Hires, assistant professor of biological sciences at the University of Southern California, Neuralink “has taken a bunch of cutting-edge stuff and put it together.”
Electrodes were created by the scientists and engineers that are made from extremely thin and flexible polymer wires. These will be implanted into the brain. In tests done with rats, Neuralink was able to record about 1,000 neurons. This is a lot more than what is needed for things such as moving cursors on computer screens with your mind.
This new technology will be interfaced with the human brain by a new state of the art neurosurgery robot that has been developed by Neuralink. The robot very precisely inserts the wires into the brain. It is able to map out where all of the blood vessels are so that none of them will be pierced, causing damage or trauma. The robot is able to implant six of the strings per minute.
One of the first areas where this technology will be tested is among paralyzed individuals. Neuralink’s president, Max Hodak, wants to try the new technology on five different paralyzed people. They will initially try to type on a computer with their minds. These types of experiments have been done before, but it won’t stop there for Neuralink. The goal is for individuals to eventually be able to regain control of paralyzed limbs. Individuals who are not able to speak will also be able to access the part of the brain that is responsible for speech.
In the presentation, Musk talked about how they want the technology to be controlled by an app on your smartphone. This was a big point for them as they believe if someone has to go to a lab full of scientists every time to use it, that would defeat one of the main purposes which is giving people immediate access to brain integrated AI.
According to Neuralink, the procedure will be nothing like the image everyone has of brain surgery. There will be no clamps on the skull or need to be put to sleep. The technology will be able to be implemented while the individual receives only local anesthetic to the spot, there will be no heavy anesthesia and all of the complications or side effects that sometimes follow. There will also be no need to shave an individual’s hair, and the area where the robot implants the technology will only be a small hole that will easily cover up.
After the long awaited announcement that Elon Musk has eluded to, everyone now sees what Neuralink has achieved. Neuralink is looking to test the new technology among parlyzed volunteers by the end of 2020, and Musk then wants to turn to the rest of the public after that.