The year 2013 has started brilliantly, even more so than 2012 ended. If you recall, it was in late 2012, when it was announced scientists and engineers had developed a robotic arm that a quadriplegic woman was capable of controlling using her thoughts to the effect of manipulating objects and gesturing to other people. That happened in North America via the incredible efforts of the researchers at the University of Pittsburgh and John Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory (JHU/APL)[ source].
But wait a few months, cross the Atlantic ocean and you can do one better. Whereas up to a few days ago, researchers had successfully created brain-controlled prosthetic arms, none had a link back to the brain providing feedback. But the ingenious researchers at Translational Neural Engineering (TNE) laboratory, Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne (EPFL), led by Dr. Micera have created such a bidirectional link via the body’s nervous system and an interface consisting of an collection of higly sensitive electrodes. The below picture gives an overview of this human-machine interface that could potentially have a huge impact in the lives of amputees and the elderly.
So, for the first time ever, a person outfitted with this new robotic arm will actually regain their sense of touch. And this wonderful moment is fast approaching as there are already plans for the first person to receive this new prosthetic arm in an operation to take place in Italy.
We will be watching with much anticipation the outcome of this trial!