Researchers have created a prosthetic hand that people can actually feel through, for the first time ever.
The technology lets paralysed people feel actual sensations when touching objects — including light taps on the mechanical finger — and could be a huge breakthrough for prosthetics, according to its makers.
The tool was used to let a 28-year-old man who has been paralysed for more than a decade. While prosthetics have previously been able to be controlled directly from the brain, it is the first time that signals have been successfully sent the other way.
“We’ve completed the circuit,” said DARPA program manager Justin Sanchez in a statement. “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.”
The prosthetics work by running wires from the part of the brain that controls movement into the special hand, as part of a project by Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, part of the US Department of Defense.
The man was able to accurately report when his finger was being touched 100 per cent of the time, and said that it was as if his own hand was being touched.
“At one point, instead of pressing one finger, the team decided to press two without telling him,” said Sanchez, who oversees the Revolutionizing Prosthetics program, in a statement. “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.”