Scientists have just accomplished a massive breakthrough in medical robotics: by giving a brain-controlled robot arm the sense of touch.
Suffering a tragic car accident when he was younger, Nathan Copeland was left paralyzed from his chest down. In an effort to improve his mobility, Copeland enrolled in a medical trial that saw scientists implant chips in his brain that incredibly allowed him to control a fully robotic arm. Now, scientists have managed to bring that technology even further, giving Copeland a sense of touch through the robotic arm itself.
The achievement came as a result of a new brain interface experiment at the University of Pittsburgh and now allows Copeland to feel the things he touches with the robotic hand when it comes into contact with various objects or surfaces through a set of sensors at the fingertips. This massive breakthrough significantly improved the time it takes Copeland to grip and move things such as cups by half its usual time, reducing it from a median of 20 seconds to just 10 seconds.
Speaking about the new experiment, Copeland said that he was already quite familiar with how to control the robot arm and that the new sense of touch didn’t feel too alien to him. “I was already extremely familiar with both the sensations generated by stimulation and performing the task without stimulation,” he said. “Even though the sensation isn’t ‘natural’—it feels like pressure and gentle tingle—that never bothered me.” He added that “There wasn’t really any point where I felt like stimulation was something I had to get used to. Doing the task while receiving the stimulation just went together like PB&J.”
Elsewhere in the tech world, Samsung has launched a 43-inch option for its Smart Monitor.