artificial arm

Exciting Advances In Robotic Limb Replacements

The US government recently announced that it has had success developing a robotic arm replacement that actually allows the wearer to feel things, reminiscent of something from science fiction. In summer 2015 the agency responsible confirmed it had made significant progress producing a prosthetic limb that could have its movement controlled by a human brain, but just months later the same developers were able to implement the ability to actually feel through the device. We have been making progress with prosthetic limbs for decades but this is a very major development.

The DARPA Prosthetic Arm (Image courtesy of DARPA)
The DARPA Prosthetic Hand (Image courtesy of DARPA)

The motor cortex is the portion of the brain that regulates muscle movement, and this is linked through the sensory cortex that transmits feelings back to the brain when things are touched and felt. The wiring of the robotic arm connects all these sections and allows for the desired movement and sensations. This was tested on a blindfolded subject to ensure the results were real, and the user was able to identify different touch sensations without vision which proved the effectiveness of the device.

For now many details remain unclear, for example the practical applications of the arm in the near future. We don’t yet know the specific detail level of the artificial touch sensation, for example whether it can detect different textures. In order to truly resemble natural feeling the limb would probably have to be much more sophisticated, if you imagine all the different things we can sense with our real hands such as different temperatures. We would expect that this technology isn’t that advanced yet, but it shouldn’t be understated: this is a major breakthrough that could have very meaningful results for millions of people. We look forward to seeing how this sort of technology develops in the future, and how soon we can get to the stage where it’s being used in hospitals all over the world.

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