Mind-Controlled Bionic Legs: They're Real

Implanted myoelectric sensors from Ossur orthopedics company may enable patients to control bionic prosthetic legs with their thoughts

To the average person, bionic legs controlled by subconscious thoughts may sound like science fiction. But one company says it has made them a reality.

Ossur, an Icelandic orthopedics company, has developed tiny devices — called implanted myoelectric sensors (IMES) — that trigger the instantaneous, subconscious movement of prosthetic legs.

The company has tested the surgically implanted devices in two patients who had been living without one or both legs. For Gummi Olafsson, who lost his right foot and lower leg after a childhood accident, the effects were nearly immediate, reports Reuters.

"As soon as I put my foot on, it took me about 10 minutes to get control of it," Olafsson told Reuters. "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. It was like, I was moving it with my muscles, there was nobody else doing it, the foot was not doing it, I was doing it, so it was really strange and overwhelming."

Ossur's new technology isn't the first to respond to patients' brain signals to move prosthetic limbs — but, according to the company, it is the first to respond to subconscious thoughts. Walking with a bionic prosthesis without IMES usually requires some intentional, conscious thought from the patient. According to Ossur, IMES eliminated the need for that.

“The technology allows the user’s experience with their prosthesis to become more intuitive and integrative,” said Thorvaldur Ingvarsson, MD, PhD, orthopedic surgeon and Ossur's head of research and development, in a May 20 press announcement. “The result is the instantaneous physical movement of the prosthesis however the amputee intended. They no longer need to think about their movements because their unconscious reflexes are automatically converted into myoelectric impulses that control their Bionic prosthesis.”

Ossur announced that the results of the ongoing research on the two patients with IMES have been positive. The company plans to continue studying the technology.