Les Baugh lost his arms in an electrical accident that took place about 40 years ago. We all can very well imagine how happy he must have felt when after 40 years he was able to control prosthetic arms via his mind. This amazing feat was carried out at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory this summer. Les became the world’s first bilateral shoulder-level amputee to have worn and simultaneously controlled two of the Laboratory’s Modular Prosthetic Limbs (MPL).
He was able to lift cups while also being able to carry out a number of motions with each arm after going through training for using his new arms. He had to undergo a surgery known as targeted muscle re-innervation. According to Albert Chi, M.D., Trauma Surgeon at Johns Hopkins, “It’s a relatively new surgical procedure that reassigns nerves that once controlled the arm and the hand. 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.”
Once he recovered from the surgery, he underwent the training where he was taught the pattern recognition system after which he was fitted with a custom socket for his torso and shoulders. This allowed supporting of the prosthetic limbs while also enabling neurological connections with the re-innervated nerves. Upon being fitted with the prosthetic limbs after virtual training via the Virtual Integration Environment (VIE), he said, “I just went into a whole different world.”
Courtney Moran from Applied Physics Laboratory said, while being really flattered by his progress, “He was able to do this with only 10 days of training, which demonstrates the intuitive nature of the control. We expected him to exceed performance compared to what he might achieve with conventional systems, but the speed with which he learned motions and the number of motions he was able to control in such a short period of time was far beyond expectation. What really was amazing, and was another major milestone with MPL control, was his ability to control a combination of motions across both arms at the same time. This was a first for simultaneous bimanual control.”
The next step involves sending Baugh home with the limb system and see how the integration of it into his daily life goes on. According to Baugh, he is looking forward to doing ‘simple things that most people don’t think of. And it’s re-available to me.’