July 29, 2011
"Researchers aim for 'direct brain control' of prosthetic arms."
Philadelphia (July 27, 2011)
Engineering researchers at four U.S. universities are embarking on a four-year project to design a prosthetic arm that amputees can control directly with their brains and that will allow them to feel what they touch. While it may sound like science fiction, the researchers say much of the technology has already been proven in small-scale demonstrations.
The research at Drexel University, Rice University, the University of Michigan, and the University of Maryland is made possible by a $1.2 million grant from the National Science Foundation's Human-Centered Computing program.
"There's nothing fictional about this," said Rice University co-principal investigator Dr. Marcia O'Malley. "The investigators on this grant have already demonstrated that much of this is possible. What remains is to bring all of it -- noninvasive neural decoding, direct brain control and tactile sensory feedback -- together into one device."
O'Malley and her co-investigators on the project -- Michigan's Dr. Brent Gillespie, Drexel's Dr. Patricia Shewokis and Maryland's Dr. Josť Contreras-Vidal -- have previously demonstrated technology that allowed amputees to correctly perceive and manipulate objects with a prosthetic gripper based upon sensory feedback that was provided in a natural way to the remaining portion of their limbs.
"Neuroprosthetic control is an important part of our project, but an equally important challenge is providing sensory feedback for contact tasks that are performed with the prosthesis," Gillespie said.
The team plans to incorporate technology that feeds both tactile information from the prosthetic fingertips and grasping-force information from the prosthetic hand via a robotic exoskeleton and touchpads that vibrate, stretch and squeeze the skin where the prosthesis attaches to the body.
"The idea is to provide a range of sensory feedback that can be integrated by the user, much like able-bodied individuals integrate a variety of tactile, kinesthetic and force information from nerves in their skin and muscles," Contreras-Vidal said.
For the full story, please go to: