17 September 2019
Gummi Olafsson tries out his brain-controlled bionic foot. Photo: Ossur
Gummi Olafsson tries out his brain-controlled bionic foot. Photo: Ossur

Mind over matter: Amputee uses thoughts to control limbs

When Gummi Olafsson wants to move his right foot or lower leg, his brain can’t send the signals to them that ordinary people’s brains do.

That’s because his right foot and lower leg aren’t there any more.

Olafsson lost them years after a childhood traffic accident. 

But he now has a bionic leg and foot that a new breakthrough allows him to control with his mind.

He is one of two amputees worldwide who can can control their bionic prosthetic limbs intentionally or subconciously with their minds, thanks to tiny implanted myoelectric sensors (IMES), Reuters reported.

The IMES were developed by Icelandic orthopedics company Ossur and surgically placed in the residual muscle tissue.

Ossur said the sensors trigger movement in the prosthesis via a receiver.

“As soon as I put my foot on, it took me about 10 minutes to get control of it,” Olafsson said.

“I could stand up and just walk away. Come back, sit down, use my muscles to move my foot in the position I wanted to use it. 

“It was like you couldn’t believe the feeling when you were moving your ankle. It was really strange. I couldn’t explain it.”

The signals sent from the brain to nerve endings in muscles that prompt movement continued even when Olafsson used a different prosthesis that did not have the receiver.

He said it was frustrating to be unable to control the foot once more.

IMES devices are 5 millimeters long and 3 mm wide and were provided by the United States-based Alfred Mann Foundation, which develops medical technology for use in patients.

Olafsson said his body continues to adapt to his prosthetic limb more each day, allowing him increased control of it.

He has been living with the IMES and an Ossur bionic limb for over a year.

Ossur plans to continue assessing the technology with clinical trials.

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