DARPA announced Friday that it has successfully developed a prosthetic arm that allows its wearer to control it with thought and also feel physical sensations. "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.
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," Justin Sanchez, program manager at DARPA, said in a press statement. The organization was able to complete the circuit that will produce what it called as the "feedback" gained from electric signals produced from touch.
The groundbreaking prosthetics technology involves the placement of electrodes inside a patient's brain regions - the sensory cortex and motor cortex - that determine tactile sensations and control movements. The key is to reinforce the thought-controlled arms with sensitive torque motors that are directly connected to the brain, according to Engadget. It enables the hand to send electric signals to the brain every time it comes into contact with something. A working artificial arm is already attached to a 28-year old volunteer who sustained a spinal cord injury, according to DARPA.
DARPA has been developing muscle-controlled prosthetics since 2006 through the Revolutionizing Prosthetics program. Video footage, for example, of an army officer injured in Iraq outfitted with an artificial arm capable of movement was demonstrated in 2013 (see video below). The new prosthetics technology is expected to pave the way for advances in technology that entails not only the manipulation of objects through artificial limbs but also the precise identification and "sensing" of the objects that the robotic devices touch.