New and affordable mind-controlled prosthesis could be on the way for upper-limb amputees, as Somerville-based BrainRobotics plans to unveil a non-invasive artificial arm this year.
The company, which was founded in 2016, is in the final stages of developing the device, which interprets the intention to move using “muscle-messages” from the brain, or electromyography (EMG). While some functional limbs on the market have limited gestures, BrainRobotics CEO and Founder Bicheng Han says this device can help users grab, hold and move objects such as cups; or possibly type on a keyboard. Patients can also use an app to further personalize gestures.
According to Han, there are three or four similar prosthetic limbs on the market, which may cost a patient over $70,000. Through research, his team has found that only two percent of amputees can afford the price of current technology enabled prosthetic limb options.
BrainRobotics, which presented its device at the 2017 Custom Electronic Show and won a $100,000 Diamond Award from MassChallenge in 2016, says they plan to release the artificial upper limb for around $2,000 to $3,000 later this year.
The Harvard University Ph.D. candidate, explained that BrainRobotics was developed after his first company, BrainCo, brought its Focus 1 product to the 2016 Custom Electronic Show.
Focus 1 is a wearable head device which monitors electroencephalogram (EEG) waves while connected to an app offering games and live user brain activity visualizations. When presenting this product at the 2016 Custom Electronic Show, Han said he was approached by amputees wondering if it was possible to use brainwaves to control prosthetic limbs. Following this inquiry, Han created and led the new BrainRobotics team in researching muscle signals and prosthesis technology to determine if brainwave control was possible. The company now plans to put the device into mass production in the next six months.
“We are the first company who is using this machinery algorithm to trigger the movement of the robotic hand.” He added that most past prosthetics use simple “On/Off” controls, which limits the hand to only a few simple gestures or functions.
Han plans to keep the device selling price low as the non-invasive technology will require less fitting and training time than other prosthetics on the market. The prosthetic has already been tested on a few amputees, Han explained, adding that it requires no surgery or implants for use. Amputees only require a 10-minute training which involves recording and mapping the amputee’s muscle messages to calibrate the prosthesis. Users can also further personalize gestures with the help of an accompanying app.
Han also explained that materials needed to build prosthetic devices do not cost more than a few thousand dollars; however, prices in the prosthetic industry are often inflated due to the few companies offering similar, high-demand products.
“I think this is wrong. There is a very small group of people in the U.S. who suffer from loss of limbs. There’s technology, but they set the prices too high and only two percent of the patients can afford this kind of technology. That’s something we want to change,” Han concluded.
Pamela Bump is a candidate for the Master of Science in Media Ventures at Boston University. After receiving a B.A. for a dual major in Journalism and Communication Studies from Keene State College in 2014, she became the Web Editor and Social Media Expert at Taste for Life Magazine, an alternative health publication. She then served as Copy Editor at The Keene Sentinel, a daily newspaper in Keene, N.H. While editing daily city news and designing pages for print, she also managed, edited, and contributed to a weekly health section.As a Media Ventures student with a passion for health journalism, Pamela hopes to use her time at MedTech to expand storytelling skills, while learning about leadership and innovation in the media-startup industry.
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