DARPA Developing Bionic Hands for Amputees

The Defense Advanced Research Protection Agency (DARPA), the research powerhouse for the U.S. Department of Defense, is now developing a sensing bionic hand for injured veterans.

It’s an innovative and ambitious program that brings new hope for veterans who are casualties of war.

DARPA 2015: To help HAPTIX performers more quickly and effectively conduct their research, DARPA is providing each team with open source simulation software in which to test their designs.DARPA 2015: To help HAPTIX performers more quickly and effectively conduct their research, DARPA is providing each team with open source simulation software in which to test their designs.

DARPA’s Hand Proprioception and Touch Interfaces (HAPTIX) project will create bionic hands that will be able to move and have the sense of touch just like that of natural hands.

“As part of DARPA’s commitment to help restore full and natural functionality to wounded service members and veterans, and in support of the White House Brain Initiative, HAPTIX seeks to create a prosthetic hand system that moves and provides sensation like a natural hand,” writes the team of research wizards on the organization’s website.

The team adds, “Sensory feedback, especially from the hand, is vitally important for many functions, and HAPTIX seeks to create a sensory experience so rich and vibrant that users would want to wear their prostheses full time. By restoring sensory functions, HAPTIX also aims to reduce or eliminate phantom limb pain, which affects about 80 percent of amputees.”

In order to develop new sensing bionic hands, DARPA is also utilizing the work of researchers from a number of notable institutions across the U.S. that include Case Western Reserve University, the Cleveland Clinic, Draper Laboratory, Nerves Incorporated, Ripple LLC, the University of Pittsburgh, the University of Utah, and the University of Florida.

Doug Weber, the head program manager for DARPA, explains that outlying nerves are information-ready and are proven reachable targets for interacting with the human nervous system.

DARPA’s Hand Proprioception and Touch Interfaces (HAPTIX) program aims to develop fully implantable, modular and reconfigurable neural-interface systems that would enable intuitive, dexterous control of advanced upper-limb prosthetic devices.DARPA’s Hand Proprioception and Touch Interfaces (HAPTIX) program aims to develop fully implantable, modular and reconfigurable neural-interface systems that would enable intuitive, dexterous control of advanced upper-limb prosthetic devices.

“Research performed under DARPA’s [Reliable Neural-Interface Technology (RE-NET)] program and elsewhere showed that these nerves maintain motor and sensory fibers that previously innervated the amputated limb, and that these fibers remain functional for decades after limb loss,” he says. “HAPTIX will try to tap into these biological communication pathways so that users can control and sense the prosthesis via the same neural signaling pathways used for intact hands and arms.”

The next phase of HAPTIX will be to develop bionic legs and arms.

Isn’t it amazing how new feedback-sensing and bionic technology will give amputees the chance to actually touch and feel again?

The HAPTIX project is certainly amazing news for amputees and the initiative will pave the way to other new and cutting-edge scientific breakthroughs in the development of bionic limbs.