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New prosthetic limb from DARPA’s Revolutionizing Prosthetics project. Recent research from DARPA’s Revolutionizing Prosthetics released the success of their new prosthetic limb that allows amputees to feel ‘near-natural’ touch sensations. The accuracy of touch makes this new limb exciting and could be coupled with mind-controlled technology in future. (via DARPA)


DARPA, the US military agency that funds many research projects, is again taking the world by storm with its weird and awesome science. One of DARPA’s many funding projects has just realized their initial promising results to the public. Revolutionizing Prosthetics has been working on upper limb prosthetics for a while now, however their recent discovery may take prosthetic limbs to the next level. Revolutionizing Prosthetics has recently created a prosthetic limb that can sense touch accurately (almost 100% accuracy is what they report).

 

Their research is still pending peer review for publication in a scientific journal, but they have released the exciting breakthrough to the public.

The world of prosthetic limb research has been growing in spades over the years, with researchers focusing on mind-controlled prosthesis. Research in this area has been promising, however, Justin Sanchez, the head of Revolutionizing Prosthetics, told The Verge, “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. We've completed the circuit."

 

Hence, mind-controlled prosthesis coupled with the touch sense capabilities of Revolutionizing Prosthetic’s research could create a prosthetic that can actually be used by patients in daily life, and not just for studies such as these. That is pretty exciting news! While DARPA’s new discovery isn’t the first touch based prosthetic that can feel, it is the most accurate and the most plausible for actual use.

 

The sensory capabilities of the hand works by placing an electrode array inside the sensory cortex. These electrodes are then connected to pressure sensors on the prosthetic hand which send electric signals from the sensors to the brain directly. Hence, the electrodes act as man-made nerves. The first to try this new tech is a 28-year-old man who has been paralyzed for more than 10 years, from a spinal cord injury.

 

They tested the touch capabilities and accuracy of the prosthetic limb by blindfolding the participant and touching fingers, then the participant had to accurately identify which finger was being touched. The participant could also tell when two fingers were being touched simultaneously, which validated the ‘near-natural’ feel that the participant felt from the prosthetic hand. In these tests, the participant correctly determined which finger was being touched almost 100% of the time.

 

This new use of accurate touch sensory capabilities in prosthesis can make it easier for patients to grab objects and interact more fully with the world around them. It could make a real difference in their ability to grab a mug and drink their morning cup of coffee.

 

Overall, there is still more research that has to be done combining mind-controlled and touch sensory capabilities in prosthesis. However, future looks really right for patients who are one giant step closer to being able to get a prosthesis that gives them fuller motion and fuller touch sensibilities in the next 5 to 10 years.


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