See me, feel me, touch me

Bioengineers at the University of Pittsburgh have created a robotic arm that can, for the first time, detect sensations on its surface and send the information directly to the brain. The device replaces sensory feelings – rough, smooth, hard, soft and so on – that people with damaged spinal cords can’t detect.

The research team planted four electrode packets, each smaller than a dime, in the exact regions of a test subject’s brain that process messages of touch from a hand. 

The test subject reported being able to sense each finger and differentiate among textures, but not to sense temperature differences. That, among other refinements, will come next.

At about the same time, Second Sight Medical in Sylmar, California, announced a successful human test of its optical prosthesis. The wafer of electronics is embedded in the brain’s visual cortex. It receives optical signals directly – eventually from a camera worn on eyeglasses – and bypasses the body’s optical system entirely.

TRENDPOST: The combination of robotics and micro-electronics will make steady progress against neural damage or degeneration. By the middle of this century, paralysis due to spinal-cord injury will be overcome. Blindness could be eliminated before 2100.

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