The next step towards true Cyborgs?
On the 14th of March 2002 a one hundred electrode array was surgically implanted into the median nerve fibres of the left arm of Professor Kevin Warwick. The operation was carried out at Radcliffe Infirmary, Oxford, by a medical team headed by the neurosurgeons Amjad Shad and Peter Teddy. The procedure, which took a little over two hours, involved inserting a guiding tube into a two inch incision made below the elbow joint, inserting the microelectrode array into this tube and firing it into the median nerve fibres above the wrist.
The development of the implant technology was carried out by a team of researchers headed by Dr Mark Gasson, who used it to perform a number of experiments. Most notably Professor Warwick was able to control an electric wheelchair and an intelligent artificial hand, developed by Dr Peter Kyberd, using the neural interface. In addition to being able to measure the nerve signals transmitted along the nerve fibres in Professor Wariwck’s left arm, the implant was also able to create artificial sensation by stimluating via individual electrodes within the array. This bi-directional functionality was demonstrated with the aid of Kevin’s wife Irena and a second, less complex implant connecting to her nervous system.
Another important aspect of the work undertaken as part of this project was to monitor the effects of the implant on Professor Warwick’s hand functions. This was carried out using the Southampton Hand Assessment Procedure (SHAP) test. By testing hand functionality during the course of the project the difference between the performance indicators before, during and after the implant was present in Kevin’s arm can be used to give a measure of the risks associated with this and future cyborg experiments.