A Man Who Lost Both Arms 40 Years Ago Is Making History As The First Person With Two Mind-Controlled Robotic Arms

Les Baugh lost both his arms in an electrical accident 40 years ago. But thanks to Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory (APL), the Colorado man is now able to wear and control two robotic limbs simply by thinking about them, the research group said in a press release.

Baugh visited the APL in June for two weeks as part of the company’s research to improve its modular prosthetic limbs (MPL). But before he could actually wear the contraption, he needed to undergo a unique kind of surgery, called targeted muscle innervation.

Dr. Albert Chi, a trauma surgeon at Johns Hopkins Hospital, says the procedure is relatively new, and it “reassigns nerves that once controlled the arm and the hand.” This would allow Baugh to control his new limbs just by thinking about the action he wants them to perform.

Once Baugh recovered from his surgery, he and researchers used pattern recognition algorithms to identify how individual muscles would contract and communicate with each other, and translate that data into actual movements inside the prosthetic arms.

According to the APL, Baugh was fitted with custom sockets for his shoulders and torso so he could support the arms. After plenty of tests, Baugh was ready to use the finished product: “I just went into a whole different world,” he told the APL.

APL’s Courtney Moran says she was “floored” by what Baugh was able to accomplish in a short amount of time — just 10 days of training. He could move cups to shelves of different heights, “but the speed with which he learned motions and the number of motions he was able to control in such a short period of time was far beyond expectation,” she said.

While researchers compare these prosthetics to “the early days of the internet,” APL’s researchers hope to send Baugh home with a pair of these prosthetics soon. Baugh says “Maybe for once I’ll be able to put change in the pop machine and get pop out of it.” 

Check out Baugh and his bionic arms at work below.


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