ByMarlon McDonald, writer at
Umm... are you going to drink that Skooma?
Marlon McDonald

6 years ago, 18-year-old Ian Burkhart lost the use of his hands and legs in a terrible accident. Now thanks to an experimental implant that sends signals from his brain directly into the muscles of his hands, Burkhart has regained some control of his right hand and is rehabilitating himself with the perfect game for regaining dexterity - Guitar Hero.

Whilst on a beach holiday celebrating the end of his first year of college, Burkhart dove into waters thinking them to be less shallow than they actually were. Unfortunately the impact seriously damaged his spinal cord and left him paralyzed from the shoulders down.

Now after being fitted with the implant, Burkhart can move his fingers with thought. He can grasp cups and swipe cards, and play video games. This marks the first time in history that a person living with paralysis has recovered the ability to move simply by willing it. An act we take for granted every day.

To keep tabs on the successful transference of electrical impulses and practice movement, Burkhart plays a game called Frets on Fire, a one-handed version of Guitar Hero. But despite the astounding progress, Burkhart still cannot feel his limbs. The system only transfers the signals that cause movement.

Frets on Fire
Frets on Fire

The implant and its corresponding system work in various ways. When Burkhart wills an action, the implant detects the electrical signals in his brain and transfers those to a computer. The computer then attempts to decipher the information before sending it to a sleeve of electrodes Burkhart wears on his right arm.

The sleeve then uses electrical signals to stimulate the corresponding muscles, coercing them into the movement he desires. So the computer basically acts as a relay between Burkhart's brain and body.

Here's a video that explains the procedure in more detail:

The Verge learned that around 5.6 million people in the US live with some form of paralysis, which breaks down to 1 in 50 Americans. Thanks to a chip that is roughly the size of a pencil eraser, the lives of people with paralysis could be dramatically improved, and allow them to live a more independent life.

(Sources: The Verge, Nature, The Guardian, Gamestop)


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