The possibility to restore the sense of touch is becoming a reality with cybernetic hands. A new study, published on PNAS and coordinated by Sliman Bensmaia at the University of Chicago, is opening the way to touch-sensitive artificial limbs that in the future could communicate real-time sensory information to amputees, through a direct interface with the brain.
“To restore sensory motor function of an arm, you not only have to replace the motor signals that the brain sends to the arm to move it around, but you also have to replace the sensory signals that the arm sends back to the brain" explains Bensmaia, "we think the key is to invoke what we know about how the brain of the intact organism processes sensory information, and then try to reproduce these patterns of neural activity through stimulation of the brain”.
In a series of experiments with monkeys, whose sensory systems closely resemble those of humans, the team of researchers identified patterns of neural activity that occur during natural object manipulation and then successfully induced these patterns through artificial means.
The research, besides making a breakthrough in the realm of Augmented Bodies, marks a big step toward new technology that would increase the properties and the medical applications of artificial robotic limbs.