Amputee Johny Matheny received an innovative prosthesis controlled via a gesture-control wristband

Man controls prosthetic arm with muscle-sensing armband

A commercial gesture-control armband has been successfully used to help an amputee control an advanced prosthetic arm.

Johnny Matheny, who lost his left arm to cancer in 2008, received pioneering surgical treatment that allowed researchers to attach a prosthetic limb directly to the bone of his stump. By placing two Myo armbands, originally designed for controlling computers with gestures, onto the remnants of his arm, the researchers enabled him to control the prosthesis almost as if it was a real arm.

The key components of the armband are electromyographic sensors that detect the activity and motions of muscles in a very detailed way. The armband basically reads what Matheny wants to do with the arm and sends the signal into a computer for analysis. From there the signal goes to the prosthesis, which carries out the action for him. All this happens in real time. He enjoys good control over his hand and individual fingers, and is able to grab and manipulate even small objects.

The whole system, the Modular Prosthetic Limb, has been developed by a team from Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory. The gesture control Myo armband is a product of Canadian firm Thalmic Labs, which describes it as the first of its kind. Unlike the better known Leap Motion device, Myo doesn’t require any motion-sensing cameras and relies entirely on signals from the user’s muscles.

It is most commonly used for gaming, as well as control of presentations and music and video entertainment systems.

“If Johnny’s case shows it is possible to directly turn thoughts into actions, then the future of human-computer interaction can achieve a new reality,” said Stephen Lake, co-founder and CEO of Thalmic Labs. “While each person's arm and mind may be different, this is an incredible example of how scientists, developers and engineers around the world have transformed lives using the Myo armband.”

The armbands only weigh about 95 grams each, less than an average wristwatch.


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