DARPA’s new prosthetic limb lets paralyzed man feel objects

Brittany A. Roston - Sep 11, 2015, 1:52 pm CDT
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DARPA’s new prosthetic limb lets paralyzed man feel objects

Prosthetic limbs have become nearly science fiction-like in their sophistication, allowing the human mind to control robotic arms and hands in a way similar to how one controls their own limbs. DARPA is counted among the research entities developing this technology, and it has recently taken it a step further, using neurotechnology to enable a paralyzed individual to “feel” objects through a prosthesis. The prosthetic is sensitive enough that sensations touching each finger could be discerned individually.

Today, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) detailed a project in which a 28-year-old paralyzed man was able to feel the physical sensation of an object through a prosthetic hand that was connected directly to his brain. This was thanks to DARPA’s own Revolutionizing Prosthetics program, and it introduces an exciting twist on typical prostheses research.

Such technology hints at a future where paralyzed individuals may be able to control robotic devices using their mind, and be able to feel through those objects, as well. Of course, such technology could also be used in prosthetics for those who have lost a limb.

In the case of this latest research project, the volunteer had electrodes placed on his brain’s sensory cortex, which, among other things, is able to detect sensations like pressure; arrays, then, were placed on the brain’s motor cortex for detecting movements from the body. These were connected to a robotic hand equipped with sensors, the latter of which sensed pressure and relayed that information to the electrodes and arrays. DARPA described this as “breaking new neurotechnological ground.”


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