40 years ago, Leslie Baugh lost both of his arms at the shoulder in an electrical accident. Just a few months ago, he became the first bilateral shoulder-level amputee to simultaneously control two prosthetic limbs with his mind.
Baugh was a part of a research program through the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory. Last summer, he started training with the lab’s Modular Prosthetic Limbs or MPLs (seen above). But first he had to undergo surgery. In order for the limbs to receive signals from Baugh, nerves that once controlled his arms and hands had to be redirected so that they would be closer to the contact points of the apparatus.
Then it was a matter of Baugh learning the language of the arms. More specifically, Baugh would have to get good at generating the signals in his nerves and muscles that the MPLs would recognize, interpret, and translate into movement. That required working with computer models so that the labs’ pattern recognition software could start matching Baugh’s input and the MPLs’ output.
When the MPLs were ready to be fitted and Baugh’s training was done, Baugh was more than prepared. “I just went into a whole different world,” said Baugh.
According to a press release, Baugh was able to manipulate several objects successfully and all after only 10 days of training. It’s an amazing demonstration not only of technology and our ability to tap into the bodies’ electrical network, but also of the plasticity of the brain — its seemingly inexhaustible ability to adapt to new challenges and learn new skills.
Eventually, Baugh will be able take the limbs home and use them in day-to-day life.
READ MORE: Johns Hopkins