Replicating Touch

Oct. 14, 2013 — New research at the University of Chicago is laying the groundwork for touch-sensitive prosthetic limbs that one day could convey real-time sensory information to amputees via a direct interface with the brain.

The research, published early online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, marks an important step toward new technology that, if implemented successfully, would increase the dexterity and clinical viability of robotic prosthetic limbs.

"To restore sensory motor function of an arm, you not only have to replace the motor signals that the brain sends to the arm to move it around, but you also have to replace the sensory signals that the arm sends back to the brain," said the study's senior author, Sliman Bensmaia, PhD, assistant professor in the Department of Organismal Biology and Anatomy at the University of Chicago. "We think the key is to invoke what we know about how the brain of the intact organism processes sensory information, and then try to reproduce these patterns of neural activity through stimulation of the brain."

For those of you who don't know, experimentation is being conducted on chimpanzees on the ability to recreate sensory responses for touch on objects that don't exist.

A neural implant is placed within the brain, and sends signals to the brain mimicking those that would be found if you were to touch a certain object. It is difficult to recreate texture, density, and temperature, but it is possible.

Recently they have begun to conduct research into applying this knowledge to human patients, using this same concept to make robotic limbs more viable.

As is the case with all scientific research like this, this can also be applied to other areas. Areas like Virtual Reality. Imagine being able to touch, and feel objects in a Virtual setting. That is what may be in store for our future with this kind of research as well!