Skip Navigation Bar
NIH MedlinePlus the Magazine, Trusted Health Information from the National Institutes of Health

NIBIB Robotics

Coffee to Go: Woman "Thinks" First Cup in 15 Years

Cathy Hutchinson grasps a bottle

Cathy Hutchinson grasps a drink for the first time in 15 years—on her own
Photo: The BrainGate Collaboration.

To Find Out More

Imagine Cathy Hutchinson's satisfaction!

For the first time since being paralyzed from the neck down by a stroke fifteen years ago, she was able to reach for and drink coffee on her own—using her thoughts alone to direct a robotic arm to her lips.

The feat was made possible by Cathy's fierce determination and a device called the BrainGate2 neural interface system, designed to put robotic arms and other assistive devices under the brain's control. The BrainGate consists of a baby aspirin-sized sensor that is implanted into the motor cortex (the part of the brain that directs movement) to monitor brain signals. It is attached to computer software and hardware that then turn the signals into commands for moving external devices, such as Hutchinson's robotic arm.

"The smile on her face was remarkable," said Leigh Hochberg, M.D., Ph.D., an associate professor of engineering at Brown University in Providence, R.I. and a critical care neurologist at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH)/Harvard Medical School in Boston, who led the clinical study of BrainGate. Although the technology is years away from practical use, he noted it is making good progress.

"This is another big jump," said John Donoghue, Ph.D., who leads the development of BrainGate technology and is the director of the Institute for Brain Science at Brown University. "We're getting closer to restoring some level of everyday function to people with limb paralysis."

"That it is possible for a person to mentally control a robotic limb in three-dimensional space represents a remarkable advance," noted Roderic Pettigrew, M.D., Ph.D., director of NIH's National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering (NIBIB), which supports the research. The ultimate goal is to reconnect the brain directly to paralyzed limbs rather than robotic ones, according to researchers.

Cathy Hutchinson "Think" Her Coffee

Watch Cathy Hutchinson "Think" Her Coffee
To see brain computer interface (BCI) technology in action, click here
Photo: The BrainGate Collaboration.

Read More "NIBIB Robotics" Articles

Progress for the Paralyzed / College Athlete Stands Again…On His Own! / Coffee to Go: Woman "Thinks" First Cup in 15 Years

Spring 2013 Issue: Volume 8 Number 1 Page 12