Port Ritchie, Florida (WOFL FOX 35) – Johnny Metheny sits at the electric piano in his Port Ritchie home, self-taught song Amazing Grace. Johnny has never played before, but he is determined to internalize the song. He plays well with his right hand.
“I got down pretty well on this side,” Metheny said.
Then he raises his left hand to the keyboard, a hand he has known for only a few short months and which he never thought he would raise.
The world’s first fully mind controlled artificial hand.
“This is called a modular limb prosthesis,” Metheny said as the robotic arm came to life and clenched a fist.
Metheny has worked with several versions of the hand over the years, but the latter has brought him closer to fully using his left hand than in the past 15 years.
“I lost my arm to cancer,” Metheny said, recalling the rapidly spreading cancer that began as a bulge on his left arm.
He said that cancer only affected about 4 people, and as it quickly became life-threatening, Johnny said it was the easiest difficult decision he had ever made.
“You will either have to lose a limb or you will die. It was basically a no brainer, you know, see you! ” said Metheny.
Johnny’s left arm was amputated just above the elbow, but he survived.
After massive fright, Metheny said that the news that he had saved him from cancer for two years was life-changing. At this point, the West Virginia native decided that he must do more in his life to pay off his happiness.
So Metheny said he advised doctors to make him their guinea pig to help people with disabilities find a better life; the best technology to give them a better future.
He eventually became familiar with a new implant-based technology, in which a prosthesis is attached to a post implanted in real human bones. Metheny said that he had to go through a lot of bureaucratic delays as the procedure was not approved in the US, but in the end he went through it and accepted it.
However, technology is more than a metal pole coming out of his hand.
Scientists have also attached nerves that were once in Metheny’s hand to electronics. Now, the signals his brain normally sends to “move his arm” or “move his fingers,” instead set in motion the muscles in his shoulder.
This brings us to the magic of Metheny’s new hand. Along with a robot-like arm, Metheny also wears two bandages on his left bicep, which perceive these movements of his muscles.
“And he (the group) connects it over Bluetooth to his elbow, which then transmits it over Wi-Fi to the computer in his hand,” he said.
Call it an explanation for an extremely complex technology, but it basically allows him to control his hand with the same brain signals that any other would use for a normal hand.
It’s under control.
The technology was developed in the medical laboratories of Johns Hopkins University as part of an annual testing program with the Department of Defense.
Metheny said they hope to eventually create workable technology for soldiers facing amputation and wanting to continue serving.
However, after what he has experienced, Metheny believes that this technology can improve the life of anyone who deals with arm amputation.
“This is my hand. Someone will ask if this is my hand, ”he said.
Johnny still has to use a smartphone app to reboot his hand from time to time and tune certain skills, but he said the situation is getting better with every update. In fact, he said there was already talk of adding sensors in future versions so that he could potentially sense objects in his hand, heat, cold, and even pain.
Right now, Metheny is just a test subject in the program, and he said that at some point he might have to give up his hand. However, he helped launch Star Fish Prosthetics, a nonprofit, to help continue funding the project and continue developing the technology so that he and others with disabilities could one day easily access it and reclaim their lost limbs.