Paralyzed man touches girlfriend with robotic hand in emotional moment. [VIDEO]

Technology With a Heart: Robotic Hand Allows Paralyzed Man To Touch Girlfriend

Technology With a Heart: Robotic Hand Allows Paralyzed Man To Touch Girlfriend

Future Tense
The Citizen's Guide to the Future
Oct. 10 2011 1:14 PM

Technology With a Heart: Robotic Hand Allows Paralyzed Man To Touch Girlfriend

Recently, we marveled at video of a 29-year-old woman, who was born deaf, hearing herself for the first time after receiving a cochlear implant.

Torie Bosch Torie Bosch

Torie Bosch is the editor of Future Tense, a project of Slate, New America, and Arizona State that looks at the implications of new technologies. 

Today, technology has given us another affecting scene of a person doing something that most of us take for granted: a paralyzed man touching his girlfriend’s hand.

Advertisement

Tim Hemmes, who has been unable to move his arms or legs since a motorcycle accident seven years ago, was able to use his thoughts to move a robotic hand to touch his girlfriend. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports that this one small step (or reach, I suppose) for a man is a giant leap for researchers. “That successful act increases hope for people with paralysis or loss of limbs that they can feed and dress themselves and open doors, among other tasks, with a mind-controlled robotic arm. It's also improved the prospects of wiring around spinal cord injuries to allow motionless arms and legs to function once again.”

Hemmes has been working toward this act for some time now. He had to undergo surgery to implant sensors in his brain; before trying to move the robotic arm, he had to train for weeks, using his thoughts to guide a computer cursor.

Using a machine to allow the paralyzed to operate in the world calls to mind the 2009 sci-fi film Surrogates, in which most of humanity turns to avatars for conducting their business, allowing their "meat bodies" to stay safe at home in their bath robes. Though a terrible movie in many ways, Surrogates successfully evoked a creepy atmosphere, which we viewers were perhaps meant to view as a warning about the dehumanizing potential of technology. But watching Hemmes touch his girlfriend, it's hard to see this technology as anything but humanizing.

Read more on the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Future Tense is a partnership of SlateNew America, and Arizona State University.