A research published in the journal Science describes an implant-controlled robotic arm that may provide tactile input to the user through a secondary implant. This implies that the user will be able to feel touch through the robotic arm, providing greater situational awareness.
People usually have a decent sense of where their limbs are in relation to one another. This is due to proprioception, a little-known sense that tells us which bodily parts are located. Even if we aren't looking at the thing, our sense of touch tells us how firmly we have held it.
To function and interact with their surroundings, early robotic arms required active visual perception. However, without the sense of touch, visual judgements are merely estimates, necessitating far greater attention from users than the capacity to "feel" what they are doing.
Fortunately, scientists have subsequently been able to identify the brain areas that process information transmitted by sensory nerve cells in the hands. Two electrode arrays are implanted into the region of the brain responsible for processing information from the skin in this study. When the 32 electrodes are activated, the brain perceives something manipulating their hands and fingers.
The research only had one participant: a guy who was paralyzed from the neck down and had operated with a robotic arm for two years thanks to brain implants implanted in the motor-control area of his brain. Even without the ability to feel, the man controlled the robotic arm expertly. Researchers conducted tactile feedback testing for this investigation, which comprised grabbing variously shaped items, moving them somewhere, and then releasing them.
The test findings show that having a sensation of touch boosts performance substantially. The participant was able to complete the set of activities nine times without the touch system, but more than a dozen times with the system turned on. The capacity of the individual to grasp the item securely was the most obvious benefit. When the sensory feedback function was enabled, the time between contacting the object with the robotic arm and lifting it from the table was reduced by two-thirds.
Because this initial research only involved one person, further testing must be performed to obtain a more comprehensive knowledge of the technology and to fine-tune it so that it is ready to be made available to normal customers and individuals in need.
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