Controlling someone’s arms through the internet

By Alejandro Freixes, CCNN Head Writer

WREX exoskeleton

Have you ever had a doctor hit your knee with a little hammer that sent your leg kicking? It’s a strange feeling right, not being able to control your leg? Thank goodness it’s only for a second, because I can’t imagine having someone else controlling my body. There’s no such thing anyway… right? Wrong! Some graduate students at New York University’s Interactive Telecommunications Program have created a device to control people’s arms!

The first thing they used was a machine called the Wilmington Robotic Exoskeleton (WREX). Usually, this device is used to help people whose arms aren’t strong enough to move by themselves. When strapped to a person’s arms, the WREX acts like an extra muscle to support movement. However, the WREX was designed so that the person using it could control it themselves. How did the students use the WREX to control someone else?

They created a program called “Open Limbs” that uses small electric pulses – sent through a small accessory called an “electrode” – to stimulate muscles to move.  Since the program is connected to the internet, the students were able to use things like an iPhone, and even a computer keyboard to move the muscle.

The students wanted to show people how their devices worked, so they put one of the creators, Will Canine, into the WREX machine. From there, they put computer-connected electrodes onto Will’s arm muscles.  When they moved the arm of a model skeleton with a flex sensor, Will’s would move too! However, they didn’t need a skeleton to move his arm. When they took the electrodes from the skeleton and put them on a finger tracking sensor, they could control Will’s arms with just a finger!

The students are hoping this will help people whose arms are too weak to move at all.

Images courtesy of Jaeco Orthopedic (featured) and NYU’s Interactive Telecommunications Program