A brand new advanced robotic hand that’s wired directly into the brain has been successfully tested, permitting a paralysed man to “feel”.
The hand, developed by the Applied Physics Laboratory at Johns Hopkins university, is part of a research venture into advanced replacement limbs funded by the US army’s Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).
The 28 year old person, who has been paralysed for more than a decade after a spinal-cord injury, had electrodes from the prosthetic hand inserted into his sensory and motor cortexes. This allowed him to both control the hand with his ‘thoughts’ and sense when the fingers of the hand were touched individually.
Sensors in the hand detect pressure applied to any of the fingers and create electrical signals to mimic touch sensations. When blindfolded, the volunteer could determine which finger on the hand was touched with practically 100% accuracy, according to DARPA.
“At one point, instead of pressing one finger, the team decided to press two with out telling him,” DARPA program manager Justin Sanchez said. “He responded in jest asking whether somebody was trying to play a trick on him. That’s when we knew that the feelings he was perceiving through the robotic hand were near-natural.”
Sanchez added: “Prosthetic limbs that can be controlled by thoughts are showing great promise, but with out feedback from signals traveling back to the mind it can be tough to achieve the level of control needed to carry out precise movements.”
By wiring a sense of touch from a mechanical hand directly into the brain, this work shows the potential for seamless biotechnological restoration of near-natural function. We’ve completed the circuit.”
The hand and the neurotechnologies on which it relies are hoped to permit those that have lost limbs to not only gain fully functioning replacements but also the level of control that may only be provided with sensation.