The holy grail of prosthetics research is and has been a kind of "Luke Skywalker hand" interface--prosthetics that respond to stimulus from the brain and function just as the original appendage it is replacing. But ideally the prosthetic wouldn't just respond to stimulus from the brain--it would also provide sensory stimulus to the brain. It would have a sense of touch. And in a paper published today in Nature, we see the groundwork for just such a breed of prostheses.
A study at Duke University Medical Center has trained monkeys to operate a virtual reality hand that provides them with tactile feedback via microwave implants that have been inserted into the part of the cortex responsible for processing such nerve stimulus. That kind of two-way communication demonstrates the feasibility of prosthetics that can both sense and carry out motor commands.
The study carried out two experiments. In the first, monkeys used a joystick to control a virtual hand on a computer screen in a game that encouraged them to differentiate between objects on the screen. Though the objects appeared identical, they had different "textures," at least according to the implants in the monkey's brains that were providing the tactile information. Between three objects, two would initiate feelings of the same texture, and the third would be different. Plied with a reward of food, the monkeys quickly learned to differentiate between the objects based on the virtual sensory stimulus.
Next, the joystick was taken away and the monkeys were allowed to control the avatar hand with only their thoughts. They were less accurate this time, but they did improve over time. The important thing to consider here though is that the monkeys--while their real arms rested at their sides--were able to control the motor movement of the avatar arm as well as receive and process tactile feedback in the brain to execute a task.
It's a first step, but a fairly notable one, with the next step being to take this off the computer screen and build it into a real prosthetic hand. Might we suggest including artificial fingerprints?
Yes all of our senses come down to electrical impulses from our nervous system. We can re-wire them all just like an electrical circuit. The only reason its taking time for this development is the complexity of our circuit..just like any other system of the human body...
This brings a whole new meaning of GUI, "Grafting User Interface", WOW! This is very cool medical science!
This is amazing. What will happen when we are able to sense our digital environment like the real thing? I predict gaming will be much more addictive...
-Spouting a fountain of nonsense since 1995-
nice never thought of this tech coming into the gaming scene.. id love to play C.O.D with fake feelings
Another issue that results in the two way interface taking much longer is the safety issue.
A basic BCI is at this stage of development is simply a sensor. This by itself is completely safe as your brain is the transmitter and the BCI is only a receiver.
However when you integrate sensory stimulus you open a floodgate of information that has to be piped into the brain. which is not only requires a much more complex and accurate signal transcription method, but also much more care in the level of input. Keep in mind the difference in some spots between sensory input and complete overload is as little as a minute fraction of a volt.
We are getting into territory that we have to tread very carefully. The Ministry of Health/FDA/DOH are all going to have their hands full in the coming years. They will need to have many more years of exploding monkeys before we will see this technology come to market.
I look forward to this technology and the ramifications it holds, especially for our troops injured in the line of duty. I am glad to see that we are at the point with many prostheses that in some cases (everyone remembers the Olympics fiasco) the artificial is superior to its organic counterpart. I cannot wait to see these technologies cleared for human trials, but only with due diligence in regards to safety. I have worked in physical therapy centers and have seen the horrors of prostheses that were fast tracked to market before their due time.