Monday, February 25, 2013

Bionic Hand That Can Feel Set To be Transplanted Later This Year

Though a number of new artificial limbs have been developed which can be controlled by the brain through both direct and indirect neural interfaces -either by being wired directly into the patient's nervous system or by monitoring electrical fluctuations in the brain via an external controller or interface. Figuring out how to integrate artificial systems directly into the human nervous system to allow for communication both to and from such devices and the brain, remains a difficult problem to resolve. Which is why as exceptional a thing as they still are, even the most advanced modern prosthetic devices are typically capable of delivering either control or sensation, but not both.

One of the promising looking attempts to overcome the current limitation of advanced prosthetic replacements, are experiments being conducted by a Swedish research group called  École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL).  Having already had significant success with previous devices, the EPFL now has plans to fit an unnamed man from Rome, with an advanced robotic hand which they described as the first ever to deliver real-time sensory feedback, directly through the recipient's own nervous system.

The planned procedure -which is set to happen later this year in Switzerland-  follows the success of an earlier portable version of the hand that was tested In 2009, on a man who suffered the loss of half of one of his arms in an auto accident. After being temporarily fitted with this earlier version of the device, xxx was reportedly able to manipulate and grasp objects with his new hand, as well as being able to feel the sensation of needles pricked into it's palm. All that despite this earlier version of the prosthetic having only two sensory zones. The current model is capable of transmitting sensory feedback from all of it's fingertips, as well as it's palm and wrist, potentially providing a much more life-like feeling for it's recipient.

According to Dr. Silvestro Micera, who is Head of the Translational Neural Engineering Laboratory at EPFL and Professor at the Scuola Superiore Sant'Anna in Italy, the newest version of the device will be attached directly into the patient’s nervous system via electrodes clipped onto the median and ulnar nerves in the arm. The expectation is that this method of attachment should allow for a bidirectional flow of information between the prosthetic and the patient's brain, enabling it's recipient to control the device by thought, while simultaneously receiving tactile sensations from the prosthetic itself, and all in real time.



Speaking of neural computer interfaces. In the above Ted Talk, brain-machine interface scientist Miguel Nicolelis, discusses his own on going research into the science behind said interfaces, using a monkey named Aurora.

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