Researchers from Cleveland Clinic have taken a bionic prosthetic arm and rewired it to communicate with the brain of an amputee. The goal was to create a prosthetic that functions more like a natural limb and provides the user with feeling. Researchers on the project constructed their prosthetic device using an off-the-shelf product.
However, the team integrated what they call “high-level computing” along with touch sensation and movement sensation into the device. The bionic arm looks like any other on the market, but inside it’s much more sophisticated and provides more feedback to the user than similar devices. According to researcher Dr. Marasco, it’s the first bionic prosthetic allowing the user to think, behave, and function as they did before amputation.
In the research, the team used two participants that had an upper limb amputation. When using the bionic arm, they could perform tasks with accuracy on par with those who didn’t suffer from amputation. The device can connect to the user’s brain using limb nerves to enable them to move the arm by simply thinking about it.
The arm can instantly relay sensation information to the brain about how the hand is moving and when it is touching something. Marasco said the users feel like their hand is moving despite that they no longer have a hand. They’re also able to feel the bionic fingers touching objects despite that they don’t have fingers.
According to the researcher, when all the systems are combined in the prosthetic device, the user’s brain feels like the prosthetic hand is natural. The findings of the study will be applied to future studies aiming to make bionic limbs common.