Robotic Prosthetic Hand Wired Into Brain: Once More, With Feeling

A 28-year old man who had been paralyzed for more than ten years due to a spinal chord injury, has received a new lease on life with an innovative robotic hand wired directly into the motor cortex of his brain. The device was developed at the Applied Physics Laboratory (APT) at Johns Hopkins University and allows him to feel almost naturally.

A sense of touch where before there was none

Most of us never think about our sense of touch of touch because we don't have to struggle to  use it. We take it for granted as we do our vision, ability to hear, walk, etc. For a paralyzed young man unable to feel his hand at all, thanks to this new robotic device, which transmits signals directly from the brain to the prosthetic, both the entire hand as well as each specific finger is touch-sensitive.

 

Touch Sensitive Robotic HandTouch Sensitive Robotic Hand

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What  are DARPA and Revolutionary Prosthetics?

The Defense Advanced Research Agency (DARPA), America's advanced search and military division funded this robotic prosthetic hand with touch-sensitive aesthetics as part of an important research project. Known as Revolutionary Prosthetics, the goal of this program is to create a neurologically controlled artificial limb that can restore almost natural motor and sensory capabilities. Since its inception in 2006, the state of upper-limb prosthetic technology, which was considered far behind that of technology involving lower limbs, has advanced tremendously.

Who is Justin Sanchez?

Implementing DARPA's noble vision is an inter-disciplinary team at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) as well as government agencies, universities and private firms. Heading the team as DARPA's program manager is Dr. Justin Sanchez whose fusion of medicine and engineering is creating miracles in the world of prosthetics.

He comes to the DARPA team with a Doctor of Philosophy and Master of Engineering degrees in Bio-medical Engineering and a Bachelor of Science degree in Engineering Science, all from the University of Florida. He joined the team in 2013 but before that was an Associate Professor of Bio-medical Engineering and Neuroscience at the University of Miami, and a faculty member of the Miami Project to Cure Paralysis. He has also published more than 75 peer-reviewed papers, holds seven patents in neuro-prosthetic design and authored a book on the design of brian-machine interfaces.

In speaking of the robotic, mind-controlled  hand, he said:
"...Prosthetic limbs that can be controlled by thoughts are showing great promise, but without the 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-technical restoration of near-natural function."

 

The BrainThe Brain

HITC

 How does this special robotic hand work?

Surgeons implanted electrode arrays, which are used to measure current and voltage, into the patient's brain, whose identity has been kept under wraps to protect his privacy. These arrays are responsible for sensory signals known as the sensory cortex, which allows the patient to control hand movement with thought and the ability to feel when the fingers or the hand touch something.

 

Touch-Sesnitive Robotic handTouch-Sesnitive Robotic hand

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Sensors in the hand create electrical signals to mimic touch sensations when they detect pressure being applied to any of the fingers. Researchers tested touch sensitivity by blind-folding the patient and then gently touching each of the fingers on the prosthetic hand. He was able to report with stunning accuracy which mechanical finger was being touched.

The future of the mind-controlled robotic device

The neuro-technologies which helped to create this amazing prosthetic device may well allow for a future in which those who  have lost limbs can not only regain full functioning but also the level of control that can only be offered with sensation.

DARPA is opening an entirely brave new world to the disabled.

Can YOU think of other ways these advanced technologies can aid humanity?

Closing thoughts on prosthetics:

The prosthetic generation is upon us ~ Aimee Mullins