October 14, 2016
SALT LAKE CITY (October 14, 2016)—Blackrock Microsystems’ technology has again been part of a groundbreaking medical achievement: Nathan Copeland had his sense of touch restored via a Utah Array-controlled robotic hand – and fist-bumped Obama with it.
“It’s amazing. Pretty cool. I couldn’t be prouder of all of you,” President Barack Obama said during yesterday’s White House Frontiers Conference in Pittsburgh while giving a fist-bump to Nathan Copeland. Since a car accident 12 years ago, Nathan is quadriplegic with all four limbs paralyzed. He only kept some ability to move his shoulders.
Thanks to research carried out by the University of Pittsburgh and the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, Nathan managed to not only move a robotic arm with his thoughts, but to actually feel pressure through it. He had “pretty impressive precision,” Obama acknowledged. “When I’m moving the hand, it is also sending signals to Nathan so he is feeling me touching or moving his arm.”
The technology behind this scientific breakthrough comes from Salt Lake City, Utah. Blackrock Microsystems, a leading producer of research equipment for neuroscience, is working closely with researchers around the globe. Rob Franklin, senior engineer at Blackrock Microsystems worked closely with the group from Pittsburgh and said that “the cutting-edge experiment in Pittsburgh, would not have been possible without the company’s flagship product, the Utah Array, which was implanted into Nathan’s sensory cortex.” This tiny multielectrode array has such a high resolution that it can read and stimulate single nerve cells (neurons) in the brain. Due to this accuracy, the Utah Array is the perfect interface between a robotic arm and the human brain.
“This is the first time that a brain-controlled robotic limb had allowed a paralyzed person to experience the natural sense of touch,” said founder Florian Solzbacher. “It is a privilege to be part of such fantastic work by courageous patients such as Nathan and brilliant researchers such as Jennifer Collinger and Robert Gaunt. To be honest, it is precisely why we founded Blackrock Microsystems!” Florian continued to say that this is “A breakthrough in rehabilitative prosthetic medicine. But it is only the beginning!”