Mother given new bionic arm that can ‘read her mind’ with AI after London Tube accident

21 June 2023, 21:53

Sarah de Lagarde lost an arm and leg in a Tube accident
Sarah de Lagarde lost an arm and leg in a Tube accident. Picture: Instagram/Sarah de Lagarde

By Jenny Medlicott

A mother who fell under a train carriage last year is set to become the first woman in the world with a bionic limb that uses AI.

Sarah de Lagarde, 44, fell over on a rain-drenched platform in the London Underground last September, resulting in the loss of her arm and leg after hospital staff were unable to save them.

But now Sarah is about to learn to live with an arm again, as she’s set to become the first woman in the world that has a bionic arm with artificial intelligence.

With assistance from the technologically advanced bionic arm, Sarah described herself as 80% human and 20% robot.

While the NHS are speedy in their provision of a prosthetic leg, the same can’t be said for arms, she said.

After doing some research Sarah discovered that she could get a prosthetic arm privately, but it could put her out of pocket more than £300,000 – an amount she didn’t have.

She started a fundraiser, hoping to raise some money to help purchase a replacement, and donations started pouring in thick and fast.

“I thought we would raise £10,000 but the money started pouring in," she told the Times. "My daughter’s school did a walk to raise funds and people were so generous. Even people donating £2 made me feel quite emotional.”

Eventually she was able to pay for a bionic hand created by Covvi, a company in Leeds, merged with other parts created abroad.

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How does the AI work?

The prosthetic limb can learn what a person wants by detecting muscle movements within the elbow when a person thinks about doing a movement.

Software in the elbow then converts these signals into actions so the muscle groups in the arm and hand can do the move signalled by the brain. The AI then learns the most common movements used by the person to make repeating them easier in future.

“My two daughters are really excited and keep asking me how powerful it is and what it will be able to crush,” Sarah said.

“There are two sides to AI. One is potentially quite frightening, but on the other hand, excuse the pun, it can give me a piece of my life back.

“The arm has software and over time it will learn which movements I make most frequently and make it easier for me to do them.

“It will be like moving the arm with my brain. The socket will attach to my upper arm and it will have sensors which detect my muscle twitches and the software will convert those impulses into arm movements.

“I have seen videos where the hand is able to hold an egg with three fingers or pick up a coin from a table.”

Due to the arm’s capabilities, Sarah has had to receive training before having the device properly fitted. This includes flexing the arm and rotating the rest.

Speaking at a conference in Rome in February, she revealed that the new hand should enable her to type with two fingers after only being able to use her left hand since the accident.

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Sarah broke her nose, teeth and broke her right arm and leg last September when she fell under a train carriage at High Barnet station in London.

She suffered the first set of injuries when the train pulled out and cried for help for a full ten minutes but nobody heard her pleas.

She tried to unlock her phone to call for help, but she said: “Because of my broken nose the facial recognition software wouldn’t acknowledge my face”.

Another train pulled in causing irreparable damage to the same two limbs, as doctors were unable to save them when she was eventually rushed to hospital.

Just days before the accident Sarah had climbed Mount Kilimanjaro just with her husband and was about to start a PhD.

She said: “As I lay on the track I remember thinking, ‘I’ve literally gone from the top of the world to rock bottom.’ I can remember everything from what happened. The adrenaline meant I didn’t feel pain.”

Speaking at the conference, she said: “Occasionally I look in the mirror without my prosthetic and I look like something from a horror movie.

“I still feel pain and I have moments where I worry about whether I will be able to make money or times when I am just fed up.

“However, you have to keep moving forward and I am just trying to be strong for my children. I know I am incredibly lucky to still be here for them.”

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