Something Most Of Us Take For Granted.

Prosthetic Arm
Feeling Prosthetic Arm | Photo by

I don’t know about you but every day when I wake up I take many things for granted. First of all I will feel the effects of the neurostimulator that I have implanted in my back to combat the neuropathy pain from my hips to my toes. After taking a shower I prepare my breakfast. I then prepare my weather forecasts as I usually do Monday through Friday for KKNX and KEED radio stations.

All of things listed require physical abilities that I have, though they can be somewhat limited. What about the people who have physical disabilities that don’t allow them to perform even the simplest of those tasks like eating a bowl of cereal by themselves?

Prosthetic Arm
Feeling Prosthetic Arm | Photo by

Scientists and medical specialists have been working for years to develop a way for patients who have lost a hand, an arm, or a leg to actually be able to control the movement of the prosthesis with their brain instead of having to use a direct physical connection. When it is only physical the patient can’t “feel” what the prosthetic is doing. The robotic hand controlled by actual nerve impulses has been developed and is reasonably successful.

A December 29, 2020 article published on and written by Paulette Campbell of Johns Hopkins University describes the successful use of highly advanced prosthetic arms. The article titled “Quadriplegic patient uses brain signals to feed himself with two advanced prosthetic arms” tells the amazing story of how technology and medical expertise combine to produce near miraculous results.

Robert “Buz” Chmielewski Using Robotic Arms | Photo by Johns Hopkins APL

The beneficiary of this amazing technology is Robert “Buz” Chmielewski who is a quadriplegic with minimal movement and sensation in his fingers and hands. An accident when he was a teenager some 30 years ago is what made him a quadriplegic.

It took a 10-hour brain surgery two years ago for the surgeons at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland, to implant six electrode arrays into the left and right sides of Chmielewski’s brain. A “closed-loop system is what they developed that joins robotics, artificial intelligence, and a brain-machine interface. They have been testing the effectiveness of this unique approach to giving quadriplegic patients the ability to actually perform simple daily tasks for themselves.

Exactly who are the “they” to whom I am referring? This clinical trial was originally begun by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and was in conjunction with the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL). The APL team that worked on what they call “Smart Prosthetics” was made up of many participants including Francesco Tenore, David Handelman, Andrew Badger, Matthew Fifer, and Luke Osborn from APL and Tessy Thomas, Robert Nickl, Nathan Crone, Gabriela Cantarero, and Pablo Celnik from the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.

After actually cutting a piece of sponge cake (a Twinkie) with the robotic arms and feeding himself Chmielewski is quoted in the article saying “It’s pretty cool. I wanted to do more of it.” If you would like to see the video of this amazing event check out this web page:

With all of this research and development continuing it would seem that the dream of giving these disabled individuals more independence and control of their own bodies is close at hand.

Let me know what you would like me to talk about or explain. You can comment below or email me at: [email protected].

Tim Chuey is a Member of the American Meteorological Society and the National Weather Association and has been Awarded Seals of Approval for television weathercasting from both organizations.

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