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Old 09-13-2015, 04:37 PM   #1
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DARPA sends sense of touch directly to man's brain

So how much longer before we have a real version of The Matrix? Between the rate that VR and this kind of tech is advancing it isn't out of the question that we could see neural implants that allow us to fully experience just about anything at a whim.

http://www.darpa.mil/news-events/2015-09-11
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A 28-year-old who has been paralyzed for more than a decade as a result of a spinal cord injury has become the first person to be able to “feel” physical sensations through a prosthetic hand directly connected to his brain, and even identify which mechanical finger is being gently touched.

The advance, made possible by sophisticated neural technologies developed under DARPA’s Revolutionizing Prosthetics points to a future in which people living with paralyzed or missing limbs will not only be able to manipulate objects by sending signals from their brain to robotic devices, but also be able to sense precisely what those devices are touching.

“We’ve completed the circuit,” said DARPA program manager Justin Sanchez. “Prosthetic limbs that can be controlled by thoughts are showing great promise, but without feedback from signals traveling back to the brain it can be difficult to achieve the level of control needed to perform precise movements. By wiring a sense of touch from a mechanical hand directly into the brain, this work shows the potential for seamless bio-technological restoration of near-natural function.”

The clinical work involved the placement of electrode arrays onto the paralyzed volunteer’s sensory cortex—the brain region responsible for identifying tactile sensations such as pressure. In addition, the team placed arrays on the volunteer’s motor cortex, the part of the brain that directs body movements.

Wires were run from the arrays on the motor cortex to a mechanical hand developed by the Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) at Johns Hopkins University. That gave the volunteer—whose identity is being withheld to protect his privacy—the capacity to control the hand’s movements with his thoughts, a feat previously accomplished under the DARPA program by another person with similar injuries.

Then, breaking new neurotechnological ground, the researchers went on to provide the volunteer a sense of touch. The APL hand contains sophisticated torque sensors that can detect when pressure is being applied to any of its fingers, and can convert those physical “sensations” into electrical signals. The team used wires to route those signals to the arrays on the volunteer’s brain.

In the very first set of tests, in which researchers gently touched each of the prosthetic hand’s fingers while the volunteer was blindfolded, he was able to report with nearly 100 percent accuracy which mechanical finger was being touched. The feeling, he reported, was as if his own hand were being touched.

“At one point, instead of pressing one finger, the team decided to press two without telling him,” said Sanchez, who oversees the Revolutionizing Prosthetics program. “He responded in jest asking whether somebody was trying to play a trick on him. That is when we knew that the feelings he was perceiving through the robotic hand were near-natural.”

Sanchez described the basic findings on Thursday at Wait, What? A Future Technology Forum, hosted by DARPA in St. Louis. Further details about the work are being withheld pending peer review and acceptance for publication in a scientific journal.

The restoration of sensation with implanted neural arrays is one of several neurotechnology-based advances emerging from DARPA’s 18-month-old Biological Technologies Office, Sanchez said. “DARPA’s investments in neurotechnologies are helping to open entirely new worlds of function and experience for individuals living with paralysis and have the potential to benefit people with similarly debilitating brain injuries or diseases,” he said.

In addition to the Revolutionizing Prosthetics program that focuses on restoring movement and sensation, DARPA’s portfolio of neurotechnology programs includes the Restoring Active Memory (RAM) and Systems-Based Neurotechnology for Emerging Therapies (SUBNETS) programs, which seek to develop closed-loop direct interfaces to the brain to restore function to individuals living with memory loss from traumatic brain injury or complex neuropsychiatric illness.
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Old 09-13-2015, 04:40 PM   #2
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Cochlear implants, organ, limb, and face transplants, and now this.

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Old 09-13-2015, 05:11 PM   #3
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Really cool stuff. Now the question I have is will/can this lead to prosthetic limbs for fully able people such that they have "superhuman" abilities with multiple limbs (like Doc Oc)? What are the ethical implications for that sort of thing?
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Old 09-13-2015, 05:51 PM   #4
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I hadn't thought about multiple limbs, but I don't see any reason why it wouldn't work. People are born with extra working digits and considering the extra prosthetics wouldn't be powered by the body it seems within reason that that could work.
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Old 09-13-2015, 09:26 PM   #5
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DARPA sends sense of touch directly to man's brain

Who would chop off their limbs for bionic limbs? Maybe gasking won't be asked to grow a pair anymore, a pair of prosthetic balls could just be installed.
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Old 09-13-2015, 09:29 PM   #6
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The only thing that would stop this is the ethics opposition. May the progression of science prevail.
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Old 09-13-2015, 09:43 PM   #7
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They have the ethics covered, which I'm sure is high up on the list when you're contracting out human testing for this kind of technology.
http://www.darpawaitwhat.com/
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R. Alta Charo
A scholar of the legal and ethical implications of emerging technologies
A photo of R. Alta Charo. A leading scholar of the legal and ethical implications of emerging technologies, to consider the ups and downs of the society we technologists seem to be engineering for the future.
R. Alta Charo is the Warren P. Knowles Professor of Law and Bioethics at the law and medical schools of the University of Wisconsin. Her expertise includes biotechnology regulation, bioethics, public health law, food and drug law, stem cell policy, torts and legislative drafting.

Charo served on President Obama's transition team, where she was a member of the HHS review team, focusing her attention particularly on transition issues related to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), bioethics, stem cell policy and women's reproductive health. From 2009-2011, she served as a senior policy advisor on emerging technology issues in the Office of the Commissioner at the U.S. Food & Drug Administration. A member of the National Academy of Science's Institute of Medicine (IOM) and Committee on Science, Technology and Law, she co-chaired the committee that drafted the National Academies' Guidelines for Embryonic Stem Cell Research.

Charo has a J.D. from Columbia University and a B.A. in biology from Harvard University.
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