This Man Controls His Robotic Arms With His Mind

By Kate Knibbs on at

The robotic arm looks like it came from the future, a sleek cyborg limb. But for Les Baugh, it’s a way to feel “back to human.”

Baugh, who lost his arms in a teenage accident, had surgery to remap the nerves in his arms to work with the high-tech prosthetic, developed by engineers at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab. The New York Times followed Baugh as he tested out the cutting-edge technology, which he’s been training extensively to use. This is one of around ten Modular Prosthetic Limbs (“MPL”) in the world.

Since the MPL is modular, so it can be customized to work with different missing limbs and different bodies, and it has 100 sensors, 26 joints, and the ability to curl up to roughly 21 kilos in weight. And, yep, he can control it with his mind.

For people who have lost limbs, prosthetics like this can offer an unparalleled way to regain body function. According to Mike McLoughlin, the program’s chief engineer of research and exploratory development, people may even begin to feel sensations in the prosthetic as their nerves re-map.

Unfortunately, prosthetics like are so expensive—around £321,685—that this level of sophistication will probably be out of reach for a long time. McLoughlin compared the limb that Bough tests to a Maserati, but said that most people will get a Toyota. “Ultimately for commercialising it, it needs to be a lower cost design,” he told the Times.

For now, watching Baugh move his man-made limbs offers a glimpse of what is possible.

Image via Johns Hopkins