Research found: robotic arm can also have a "sense of touch"
Robotic arms can also have a "sense of touch"
The research found: Robotic arms can also have a "sense of touch" A recent study published in the journal Science shows that when a quadriplegic patient controls a robotic arm with his or her mind, the arm can provide direct tactile feedback to the human brain. This greatly improves the function of the prosthetic limbs of paralyzed patients, allowing them to quickly act such as pouring water from one cup to another.
The University of Pittsburgh Rehabilitation Neuroengineering Laboratory recently announced new research findings. Pictured is the University of Pittsburgh. (Harvey Meston/File Photo/Getty Images)
Copeland, 35, is from Dunbar, Fayette County, Pa. At age 18, he was involved in a car accident that left him unable to move from the neck down. Since 2014, he has volunteered for a study at the University of Pittsburgh's Rehabilitation Neuroengineering Laboratory.
Researchers implanted miniature electrodes in Copeland's brain. Two sets of 88 electrodes, arranged in an "array" the width of a hair, resemble thin paintbrushes that reach into the brain's motor cortex and guide movement. Now he has learned to control the movement of the robot through the brain-computer interface.
In a recent paper in the journal Science, a bioengineer at the Pittsburgh lab gave a detailed description. The team used a bidirectional brain-machine interface to record neural activity in the motor cortex and generate the sense of touch through microstimulation of the somatosensory cortex in cortex. When Copeland receives haptic feedback from the prosthesis, he can manipulate the robotic arm through his mind. This was transmitted through electrodes in his somatosensory cortex, an area of the brain that processes bodily sensory information.
In the experiment, Copeland could move tubes, spheres, cups, and other objects of different sizes from a table to a high table. The time it took him to grasp and move objects with his arms was cut in half, from 20.9 seconds to 10.2 seconds. He said, "The feeling boosted my confidence, and I knew I did grab the object and could lift it."
He said, "I am the first person in the world to have an array of electrodes implanted in the sensory cortex. They (the electrodes) can directly stimulate my brain." "I feel as if it's coming from my hand."
"It's an unnatural feeling, like a slight pressure, but that's OK." He said: "I think the tenderness is a feeling I have to get used to. It's normal to feel a little pressure when you're experimenting." As the research progressed, more and more electrodes were used to simulate the index, ring, and pinky fingers of his right hand.
Currently, the Pittsburgh team is testing Copeland's ability to control pressure while grasping objects with the robotic arm. This experiment involves having a patient pick up a virtual egg. If the grip is too strong, the test tube will break.
This was expected, but not quite what we expected," said Jennifer Klinger, co-author of the paper and an associate professor in the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. It does improve the patient's ability to grasp objects."
The team hopes to further improve the prosthesis. We "don't want to just do science in the lab," Killinger says, but want the robotic system to be used at home by people who have lost the use of their arms. Perhaps it can be combined with other technologies to restore function by stimulating the muscles or nerves in the subject's arm.
The work was assisted by the U.S. Department of Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and is part of the Prosthetic Revolution Repair Program.
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