From military service members to factory workers and everyday people, accidents happen and limbs are lost. It’s possible to adapt to the loss of a limb, but life is really never quite the same after something like that. Fortunately, science is working on new methods that make it possible for patients to have function restored with a new limb. The limb is mechanical, but thanks to a breakthrough in the brain-limb connection, scientists have figured out how to give mechanical limbs life-like properties.
DARPA has announced that they have created a mechanical hand that the patient can feel the sensation of touch with. The 28-year old male who was the subject of the study suffered a paralyzing spinal cord injury.
By attaching electrodes through the patient’s sensory cortex, which is the part of the brain responsible for processing feelings like pressure and touch, and the patient’s motor cortex, the arm is able to move. In the current setup, these wires run directly from the brain to the mechanical hand. The end result is the man controlling the hand through the same impulses he used to use before. The patient could also sense when the hand was being touched by something else, like another hand or an object.
The ultimate goal of projects like these doesn’t stop at mechanical limbs that move at the patient’s will. DARPA, and the companies who work on these projects, hope to create a limb that can retain fine motor function. There is still a lot of ground to cover, but scientists are steadily learning how to utilize the parts of the brain effectively.