After more than a decade of paralysis from the neck down, the one thing Jan Scheuemann wanted to be able to do was feed herself a bar of chocolate.
Now using a brain-controlled robotic arm at the University of Pittsburgh, Jan has been able to do just that.
Doctors were blown away by the level of skill she achieved with the arm, controlled by her thoughts alone.
It uses a new kind of computer programme that translate natural brain activity used to move opur limbs into commands to move the robotic arm.
For Jan, it has been an amazing experience: “There are things I regret not doing when I was able, not skydiving, but there were some adventures I would love to have had and I regret not doing them now. And this, this is the ride of my life. I keep saying this is the rollercoaster, this is the skydiving, it’s is just fabulous and I am enjoying every second of it.”
The 52-year-old had an operation to insert two tiny grids of electrodes into the left half of her brain, where movements are controlled.
Wires from the electrodes run to connectors on her head and these are then plugged into the robotic arm.
The signals from her brain are then interpreted and translated into movement.
Neurosurgeon Andrew Schwartz said: “We wanted to be able to use this easily without working hard, enjoying eating and bring that aspect of everyday life back to her.”
In the future doctors hope to build sensors into the robotic arm so patients can feel the texture and temperature of the objects they are touching.