05 November 2009

All Cyborgs Now: SmartHand Wired to Nerve Ends

Prof. Yosi Shacham-Diamand of TAU's Department of Engineering, working with a team of European Union scientists, has successfully wired a state-of-the-art artificial hand to existing nerve endings in the stump of a severed arm. The device, called "SmartHand," resembles -- in function, sensitivity and appearance -- a real hand.

Robin af Ekenstam of Sweden, the project's first human subject, has not only been able to complete extremely complicated tasks like eating and writing, he reports he is also able to "feel" his fingers once again.

The state of the art for advanced prosthetic hands has just jumped a level -- thanks to the EU built SmartHand, and its neurally wired interface developed at Tel Aviv University.
[Hand recipient] Ekenstam told a television interviewer, "I am using muscles which I haven't used for years. I grab something hard, and then I can feel it in the fingertips, which is strange, as I don't have them anymore. It's amazing."

This particular multi-million dollar project focused on hands, but the TAU/EU team could also have built bionic legs to be wired to the brain. The team first chose to build a hand, however, because of its unique challenges. "The fingers in the hand are the most complex appendages we have," Prof. Shacham-Diamand observes. "The brain needs to synchronise the movement of each digit in a very complicated way."

With the help of the TAU team, the SmartHand project was able to integrate recent advances in today's "intelligent" prosthetic hands with all the basic features of a flesh-and-blood hand. Four electric motors and 40 sensors are activated when the SmartHand touches an object, not only replicating the movement of a human hand, but also providing the wearer with a sensation of feeling and touch. _SD

The researchers eventually intend to cover the machine SmartHand with a "skin" covering, to match the recipient's own skin tone, to create a more natural appearance. There will always be those who would rather maintain the artificial, robotic appearance for various reasons of their own, of course.

The SmartHand interface apparently utilises flexible implanted electrodes for transferring information to and from nerve endings remaining in the distal stump.  It appears to provide distinctly improved motion control and sensation both.

It should be obvious that the same technology could be used to provide non-amputees with the ability to operate and feel distant avatars and all types of remote prostheses.   If you do not mind a number of implanted electrodes in rather sensitive parts of your body, you may even pioneer the new science of "teledildonics", or sex at a distance. 

Or you may want to wait until transcranial brain implants are perfected, which can bypass lower body-interfaces altogether.

Today, you do not have that choice.  Soon, you may.

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Blogger Loren said...

I would much prefer a series of peripheral implants. It takes a lot in my opinion to justify drilling a hole in the head and sticking something straight into the brain matter.

If an implant in the arm goes bad, you have a damaged arm. If one in the brain goes bad(or something else during surgery), you have a damaged brain. Pick one.

Thursday, 05 November, 2009  
Blogger al fin said...

True, for limb prosthesis that makes sense. For controlling remote devices and receiving sensory input from remote devices, maybe not.

The science of brain machine interfaces is improving. The brain implants of the future will probably be of soft biocompatible materials that self-assemble and self-guide to the appropriate locations in the brain.

Remember what I have been trying to communicate about cognition in the brain: it is synchronous / asynchronous, distributed, and comprises several types of simultaneous and overlapping oscillatory couplings involving multiple brain centers, cell types, and white matter pathways. It is utterly dependent upon the wetware that embodies it.

When you are trying to control remote avatars and enjoy pleasurable experiences virtual reality, direct communication with the brain promises a more convincing quasi-reality.

Friday, 06 November, 2009  

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