First man to drive a car with ‘thought-powered arms’ dies after crashing into a tree

An Austrian man who was the first in Europe to wear an innovative high-tech artificial arm has died after the car he was driving veered off the road and crashed into a tree.

Christian Kandlbauer lost both arms in an electrical accident in 2005 but was able to live a largely normal life thanks to a mind-controlled robotic prosthetic left arm and a normal prosthesis in place of his right arm.

The 22-year-old died on Thursday, said Andreas Waltensdorfer, a senior physician at a hospital in the southern city of Graz, where Kandlbauer had been in intensive care since Tuesday, the day of the crash.

The cause of the crash remains unclear. Both Waltensdorfer and local police said Friday it was impossible to tell whether the accident was caused by problems with Kandlbauer’s prosthetic arms.

Kandlbauer, who drove himself to work every morning after getting his driver’s license a year ago, had said his quality of life improved dramatically due to the mind-controlled prothesis, which recognized signals from his brain and moved accordingly.

‘Thanks to the mind-controlled prothesis, I’m almost as independent and self-reliant as I was before my accident,’ Kandlbauer said in comments on the website of Otto Bock HealthCare Products GmbH, the company that produced the prothesis. ‘I can pretty much live the life before the accident.’

In order for the prothesis to work, four of Kandlbauer’s nerves were redirected to his left chest muscles, expert Hubert Egger was quoted as saying on the website.

Kandlbauer’s Subaru Impreza was adapted with special equipment, including a modified emergency brake and a button to operate functions such as the horn, indicator lights and windshield wipers. It was approved by local transportation authorities.

On his website, Kandlbauer described how he took both artificial arms off every night and recharged them like cell phones. He also wrote that getting a driver’s license had been one of his major goals.

Members of the public are now using his site to express their condolences.

Notburga Halbauer, a spokeswoman for Otto Bock HealthCare Products GmbH, said Kandlbauer was the first person outside the United States to wear the mind-controlled prothesis.


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