DARPA has been spending a lot of money in the last decade developing advanced prosthetic technologies to help wounded military folks get back to a normal life. While the organization has helped develop the highly articulatingLuke Arm, it doesn’t have the sense of touch, a major component of a true prosthetic that amputees really look forward to. To help with that, DARPA announced that it’s approved funding for Phase 1 of its Hand Proprioception and Touch Interfaces (HAPTIX) program.
The teams receiving the funds, which include Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland Clinic, Draper Laboratory and others, will be using intramuscular electrodes to control prostheses while sending touch sensor data back to the brain to be interpreted as tactile sensation.
Here’s a video DARPA put together previewing some of the technologies that may play a role in the HAPTIX project:
At the Wait, What? A Future Technology Forum hosted by DARPA last week, researchers reported on the first patient outfitted with a prosthetic hand coupled with an implanted brain stimulator that allows him to actually feel what he’s touching. The system relies on a prosthetic with individually controlled fingers developed at Johns Hopkins that can be controlled via the brain interface. The new capability allows signals to be sent back from the arm to the brain, utilizing torque sensors on the fingers to create a natural touch sensation for the paralyzed patient.
“We’ve completed the circuit,” said DARPA program manager Justin Sanchez in a statement. “Prosthetic limbs that can be controlled by thoughts are showing great promise, but without feedback from signals traveling back to the brain it can be difficult to achieve the level of control needed to perform precise movements. By wiring a sense of touch from a mechanical hand directly into the brain, this work shows the potential for seamless bio-technological restoration of near-natural function.”
The patient could tell which finger was being touched and claims it feels pretty much just like what he remembers touch to be with his now paralyzed hands. He could also feel through multiple fingers at the same time while moving the robotic arm around.