Technology and medicine have a truly good thing going, and while the public might not yet be aware, there are many developing projects that aim to improve people’s lives. Such is the case of the experimental prosthetic hand that the US military’s futuristic advancement department has been working on.
After being paralyzed for over a decade, a man was lucky enough to be part of the study that allowed him to artificially “feel” sensations. At first, the 28-year-old patient had electrodes wired into his sensory cortex, the brain area where tactile sensations are detected, enabling him to experience again the basic sense of touch.
Justin Sanchez, the chief of the Revolutionizing Prosthetics program inside the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), is fairly enthusiastic about what bionic devices have become. Instead of being limited to science fiction movies, new projects are being developed by engineering teams around the world, promising to transform our perception of the world.
First tests had the patient blindfolded while the researchers gently pressed on each finger of the prosthetic. Surprising enough, he proved nearly 100-percent accuracy in stating which finger was being touched.
At one point, the team moved on to touching two fingers instead of one – without his knowledge. This is when researchers knew that the sensations were so close to natural, because the man asked whether they were playing a trick on him.
Believe it or not, the second phase of the experiment had the man’s motor cortex connected to the hand through wires, so he could use his thoughts in order to control its movements. You don’t expect this kind of stories to be in the news, as it would much rather fit in a Star Wars movie (remember when Luke Skywalker gets a prosthetic hand after Darth Vader cut it off?)
The project has the signature of the Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) at Johns Hopkins University. Sanchez is positive that neural technologies will advance so much that people living with missing or paralyzed limbs will be able to use robotic devices with their brain signals, as well as sense what those devices are touching.
DARPA has kept the volunteer’s identity anonymous, revealing only that his impairment had been caused by a spinal cord injury. The study shows the potential of “bio-technological restoration of near-natural function,” which is yet another step further in the bionic devices industry.
Image Source: Boston Magazine
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