A U.S. Army tanker who lost his arm to an IED attack in Iraq was able to manipulate a prosthetic arm for the first time since his 2007 injury.
Researchers from Johns Hopkins University in Maryland worked with Army Spc. Jerral Hancock to develop the Modular Prosthetic Limb, a robotic arm being built by JHU's Applied Physics Lab. The goal of the program is to create a robotic prosthetic with all the capabilities of the human arm.
Hancock has struggled in the years since his injury to live a fully-functioning life after the attack left him paralyzed from the mid-chest down. His right arm has limited mobility, making it difficult to do even one-handed tasks.
The MPL features hundreds of sensors that help it accurately gauge the angles, speed, and power the arm is using. Other sensors strapped to Hancock's body read the signals being passed through his skin to his missing limb. The device's software then tries to replicate the movements that Hancock is imagining, syncing his commands to the robotic arm.
In one heart-breaking moment, Hancock tells the researchers that he doesn't imagine a left hand with full mobility, but one that has the same physical limitations of his injured right hand.
In the video, Hancock teaches the software his signals for opening and closing his hand and bending his elbow. Once the software is calibrated, he can then use the arm to grab a drink from the fridge and to fire a foam dart with his daughter.
See Hancock with the arm and his family in the full video below:
Hancock won't get to use the arm just yet, but his work with researchers to refine the technology will hopefully allow people who need prosthetics to get a more functional option in the next few years. JHU currently has six MPLs that are being used for research purposes and four more in development, according to the project's website.