Amputee Makes History with APL’s Modular Prosthetic Limb

Dec 20, 2014

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By John Hopkins APL

A Colorado man made history at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) this summer when he became the first bilateral shoulder-level amputee to wear and simultaneously control two of the Laboratory’s Modular Prosthetic Limbs. Most importantly, Les Baugh, who lost both arms in an electrical accident 40 years ago, was able to operate the system by simply thinking about moving his limbs, performing a variety of tasks during a short training period.

Baugh was in town for two weeks in June as part of an APL-funded research effort to further assess the usability of the MPL, developed over the past decade as part of theRevolutionizing Prosthetics Program. Before putting the limb system through the paces, Baugh had to undergo a surgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital known as targeted muscle reinnervation.

“It’s a relatively new surgical procedure that reassigns nerves that once controlled the arm and the hand,” explained Johns Hopkins Trauma Surgeon Albert Chi, M.D. “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.”

After recovery, Baugh visited the Laboratory for training on the use of the MPLs. First, he worked with researchers on the pattern recognition system.


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6 comments on “Amputee Makes History with APL’s Modular Prosthetic Limb

  • This is properly cool stuff, and I am fascinated by is the ability to read signals from the nerves and interpreting them. I meant that’s massive.

    Is there an article about that aspect? I hope so. And I hope they won’t patent it: sounds like the thing should belong to the whole humankind…

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  • This ability to read and interpret a complex of nerve signals in this way is indeed “massive”.

    I think Les Baugh is to be thanked mightily for his efforts. It is fairly clear that this will not transform his life as we all would wish, but it will transform later lives.

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  • This ability to read and interpret a complex of nerve signals in this way is indeed “massive”.

    Properly so. Just think what you have to accomplish: you have to read electrical signals with a resolution down to tens of axons, you probably want an excellent signal dynamics, you need to assign to each “pixel” the right virtual muscle, you have to convert virtual muscles into something your machine can understand and finally the machine has to act accordingly. And all of that in real time -which, in this case, I’d say it’s in the order of one tenth of a second.

    The most amazing part is, for me, the detail of the knowledge you have to achieve to assign the signals you read from nervous fibers to virtual muscles. If you’re able to do that you know you’re pretty intimate with how the brain issues orders around. Which is amazing.

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  • My guess is that Les Baugh’s life has already been transformed. He must take great pride in what he is doing. Yes, he may or may not be able to experience a highly advanced prosthetic, but my guess is that he was tickled pink to pick up that ball.

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  • If they can fit the prosthetic with temp sensors etc it would be easier to also control the limbs because of the feedback.

    To know how hard to squeeze something without breaking it requires tactile feedback from the objects. This is really a great advancement nonetheless. I wonder if at some point he won’t have to consciously think about moving those muscles to activate the arms. We take it for granted that we can move our limbs without thinking about it.

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