In what may sound like the stuff of Hollywood science fiction, the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has just announced the existence of an advanced prosthetic that grants its user both movement and feeling.
Not only can the test subject – a volunteer whose name has not been released – move a prosthetic hand with his thoughts, but he can also feel when the hand is being touched.
In a test in which he was blindfolded, the subject was asked which finger was being touched, in he scored almost perfectly. He even detected two of the hand’s fingers being touched at the same time, a test the researchers carried out to see just how much sensation was reaching the man’s brain.
This is because he has electrodes wired into two parts of his brain – the motor cortex which controls movement and his sensory cortex which processes touch – that are connected to pressure sensors on the hand via wires to tell the brain when the hand touches something.
“We’ve completed the circuit,” said DARPA program manager Justin Sanchez in DARPA’s official statement. “Prosthetic limbs that can be controlled by thoughts are showing great promise, but without feedback from signals travelling 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.”
More details on the project won’t be released until it’s undergone peer review for publication in an unnamed scientific journal, but the little that DARPA has put out sounds promising indeed.
As our own Charlie Fripp put it this morning, “I’ll give all of the money I’ll ever earn if someone could just turn me into Adam Jensen.”
Careful what you wish there, Charlie – that may one day be possible.
[Source & Image – DARPA]