Pitt-UPMC researchers help a paralyzed man feel again with the help of a mind-controlled robotic arm

Imagine being in an accident that leaves you unable to feel sensation in your arms and fingers.

Now imagine regaining that sensation, a decade later, through a mind-controlled robotic arm that is directly connected to your brain.

RELATED: What Is Brain-Computer Interfacing (BCI) Technology?

Nathan Copeland, 28, experienced just this after he was connected to the Brain Computer Interface (BCI) developed by researchers at UPMC and the University of Pittsburgh. For the first time, a human is able to experience the sensation of touch via a robotic arm, which is controlled with the brain.

In the winter of 2004, Copeland snapped his neck and injured his spinal cord in a car crash, leaving him with quadriplegia from the upper chest down, unable to feel or move his lower arms and legs. He was just 18.

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Copeland can now feel pressure and distinguish its intensity, though he cannot yet tell the difference between hot and cold.

“I can feel just about every finger — it’s a really weird sensation,” Copeland said about a month after surgery. “Sometimes it feels electrical and sometimes its pressure, but for the most part, I can tell most of the fingers with definite precision. It feels like my fingers are getting touched or pushed.”

Learn more about this breakthrough at InsideUPMC.UPMC.com

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The UPMC Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, we strive to improve your function after injury or illness. We treat functional, pain-related, and neurological conditions, helping with both physical and emotional disorders. We provide inpatient therapy at the UPMC Rehabilitation Institute, and we also operate several outpatient clinics throughout western Pennsylvania. We also are a leader in research to develop new technologies and tools for the highest quality care.