Students at NYU’s Interactive Telecommunications Program (ITP) showed off an array of innovative media projects this week at their annual Spring show. But one project in particular caught my eye: an API that allows you to control another person’s arm over the internet.
Will Canine, Carl Jamilkowski, and Andy Sigler, all graduate students at ITP, created an open API platform that bypasses the nervous system and triggers muscle movement in a person hooked up with muscles sensors. They did so by hacking an “off-the-shelf” neuro stimulator unit and splitting its output so that it could be controlled with any interface, such as a keyboard, joystick or LEAP sensor.
In order to demonstrate their innovation for the show, the students fitted a fake skeleton’s arm with sensors that, when curled, also curled the arm of a person attached with electric muscle pads.
“We’ve been really interested in non-autonomous body control, so other people controlling your body,” explained Canine, who allowed people to move his arm for several hours. “Usually people are really scared of this idea but we think it has some really interesting implications for people with paralysis or who can’t control their own bodies.”
The students said their API will theoretically trigger any muscle but curling anything more than a forearm and bicep is still far off.
“Legs work well but it’s a much heavier limb so you don’t have as much range of motion,” Canine said. “Electricity flows to the path of least resistance so it doesn’t actually go deep in the muscle.”
The students stressed that their API is still in its infancy and that they intend it to be used to assist people who can’t move their limbs.
“It’s obviously not a point where the broader public will take it quite yet,” Canine said, “but I think in a few years, when these devices are made smaller and more hackable, the public will find uses for it.”