DARPA's New Robotic Limb Will Let Amputees Feel Again

DARPA's New Robotic Limb Will Let Amputees Feel Again

Mind-controlled robotic limbs have, in some form, existed for a while: As early as 2010, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency funded testing for limbs controlled by signals directly from an amputee's brain. On Thursday, DARPA released a video revealing a new technology called targeted muscle re-innveration, which allows amputees to control artificial limbs in a new way.

The technology, developed as part of DARPA's Reliable Neural-Interface Technology (RE-NET) program, reads brain signals that are already connecting to nerves and muscles, such as those that cause phantom pain. It rewires the nerve endings that controlled an amputee's original limb to the new, robotic limb, allowing a person to control his or her prosthetic with existing muscle structures. Amputees would not be dependent on visual feedback, as they are with existing technology, and would regain some sense of touch.

Targeted muscle re-innervation has gotten a lot of funding from the RE-NET program because, as the U.K's Register notes, it eliminates the need for surgery on "the densest and most power-efficient computer on the planet" -- the human brain. With improvements in medical technology and an increase in the number of amputees coming home from war, the need for new advances in technology is especially important. DARPA, with this new prosthetic, seems to be on the right track.

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