US military develops prosthetic hand that can 'feel'

September 14, 2015
This handout photo obtained from the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency on September 14, 2015 shows a volunteer ampute
This handout photo obtained from the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency on September 14, 2015 shows a volunteer amputee fitted with an experimental prosthetic hand that lets him "feel" sensations

Researchers fitted a man who has been paralyzed for more than a decade with an experimental prosthetic hand that lets him "feel" sensations, the US military's futuristic development department said.

Scientists wired electrodes into the 28-year-old patient's sensory cortex, which is the part of the brain that identifies , enabling him to perceive a basic sense of touch.

In the first series of tests, researchers gently touched each finger of the prosthetic hand while the man was wearing a blindfold.

He was able to state with nearly 100-percent accuracy which finger was being touched, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, better known as DARPA, said in a statement Friday.

"At one point, instead of pressing one finger, the team decided to press two without telling him," said Justin Sanchez, who heads DARPA's Revolutionizing Prosthetics program.

"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."

Researchers also sent wires from the man's motor cortex to the hand, so he was able to control its movements with his thoughts. The mechanical hand was developed by the Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) at Johns Hopkins University.

This handout photo obtained from the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency on September 14, 2015 shows an experimental pr
This handout photo obtained from the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency on September 14, 2015 shows an experimental prosthetic hand that allows the user to "feel" sensations

It's the sort of technology that until recently was imaginable only in science fiction—like the scene from the 1980 classic movie "The Empire Strikes Back," where Luke Skywalker gets a prosthetic hand after losing his own in a lightsaber dual with Darth Vader.

But DARPA says new advances made possible by neural technologies it is developing point to a future "in which people living with paralyzed or missing limbs will not only be able to manipulate objects by sending signals from their brain to robotic devices, but also be able to sense precisely what those devices are touching."

DARPA did not release the identity of the volunteer in this study, and said only that he had suffered a spinal cord injury.

"By wiring a sense of touch from a directly into the brain, this work shows the potential for seamless bio-technological restoration of near-natural function," Sanchez said.

The study has been submitted for peer review and eventual publication in a science journal.

Explore further: Sense of touch reproduced through prosthetic hand

More information: DARPA: www.darpa.mil/news-events/2015-09-11

Related Stories

Sense of touch reproduced through prosthetic hand

May 10, 2013
In a study recently published in IEEE Transactions on Neural Systems and Rehabilitation Engineering, neurobiologists at the University of Chicago show how an organism can sense a tactile stimulus, in real time, through an ...

A blueprint for restoring touch with a prosthetic hand

October 14, 2013
New research at the University of Chicago is laying the groundwork for touch-sensitive prosthetic limbs that one day could convey real-time sensory information to amputees via a direct interface with the brain.

Recommended for you

Therapeutic antibodies protected nerve–muscle connections in a mouse model of Lou Gehrig's disease

February 20, 2018
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig's disease, causes lethal respiratory paralysis within several years of diagnosis. There are no effective treatments to slow or halt this devastating disease. Mouse ...

Brain liquefaction after stroke is toxic to surviving brain: study

February 20, 2018
Scientists have known for years that the brain liquefies after a stroke. If cut off from blood and oxygen for a long enough period, a portion of the brain will die, slowly morphing from a hard, rubbery substance into liquid ...

Brain aging may begin earlier than expected

February 20, 2018
Physicists have devised a new method of investigating brain function, opening a new frontier in the diagnoses of neurodegenerative and ageing related diseases.

Brain immune system is key to recovery from motor neuron degeneration

February 20, 2018
The selective demise of motor neurons is the hallmark of Lou Gehrig's disease, also known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). Yet neurologists have suspected there are other types of brain cells involved in the progression ...

Every experience that the brain perceives is unique

February 20, 2018
Neuronal activity in the prefrontal cortex represents every experience as "novel." The neurons adapt their activity accordingly, even if the new experience is very similar to a previous one. That is the main finding of a ...

Electrical implant reduces 'invisible' symptoms of man's spinal cord injury

February 19, 2018
An experimental treatment that sends electrical currents through the spinal cord has improved "invisible" yet debilitating side effects for a B.C. man with a spinal cord injury.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.