DoD Funds Mind-Controlled Bionic Leg

Defense Department and academic researchers are hailing a significant breakthrough in the development of a mind-controlled bionic leg.

“We hope to … make this robust enough to send home with people for trial in three to five years,” said Levi Hargrove, a biomedical engineer and research scientist at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago. “After that, if it gets more funding, to have veterans at Walter Reed or San Antonio testing them.”

The institute’s achievement was made possible in part from an $8 million grant from the Defense Department, which has increased funding for prosthetics research over the past decade.

“A lot of people don’t realize that a lot of funding for this kind of research comes from DoD,” said Troy Turner, manager of the Advanced Prosthetics and Human Performance program at the Army Telemedicine and Advanced Technology Research Center at Fort Detrick, Md.

It’s easy to understand the Pentagon’s interest, especially after a decade of war that has resulted in more than 1,200 troops sustaining more than 1,600 amputations as of December 2012, according to a report from Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio.

“Historically, advances in prosthetics go with war,” Turner said.

This is the first time a prosthetic leg’s movement has been prompted and carried out by the signals from its owner’s brain — a feat made possible by surgically connecting healthy nerves, RIC’s Hargrove said. Brain signals reach sensors attached to the leg and go on to the robotic leg’s computer. Software instantly analyzes and decodes the brain signals and converts them to instruction, which directs the limb to move in whatever way it needs.

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