The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency has made the news these days with more than one project, but a prosthetic hand that enables paralyzed men to feel again what it’s like to touch objects is certainly far more important that some robotic landing gear for helicopters.
A bit over two years ago, DARPA announced that it had developed a prosthetic arm that resembled Luke Skywalker’s bionic member from Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back. More precisely, the arm was able not only to move, but also to sense, which truth be told, is all sorts of mind-blowing. DARPA continued to explore the matter, and has now showcased the advancements in the form of a brain-connected prosthetic hand that is so sensitive that users can tell what each finger touches. This can only be considered a breakthrough in the field of neurotechnological research, fact that shows that DARPA is not exclusively interested in robotics for the sake of military applications.
To exemplify how the new prosthetic hand works, DARPA equipped a 28 year-old paralyzed man with it, connected it to his brain via electrodes placed on the sensory cortex, and noticed how not only sensations, but also movement was detected. The electrodes were used along some arrays on the volunteer’s motor context in the brain.
“At one point, instead of pressing one finger, the team decided to press two without telling him,” explained DARPA program manager Justin Sanchez. “He responded in jest asking whether somebody was trying to play a trick on him. That is when we knew that the feelings he was perceiving through the robotic hand were near-natural.”
The prosthetic hand is the brainchild of DARPA’s Revolutionizing Prosthetics program, and it’s fairly obvious that this could not have been achieved with regular prostheses. It remains to be seen what the agency has in store for us in this department, but I’m sure that it won’t take long until we see new advancements. It shouldn’t take long until such enhancements, along with 3D printed blood vessels and organs give birth to cyborgs, and this may be a viable way of prolonging our lives, if we fail to find the secret to neverending youth and/or immortality.
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