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Next Step for Darpa’s Mind-Controlled Prosthetics: Reliability

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Next Step for Darpa’s Mind-Controlled Prosthetics: Reliability

The Pentagon’s mad science division is closer than you’d think to creating thought-controlled robot limbs for a wide swath of wounded soldiers. The early experiments and prototypes have worked out. So now Darpa wants to iron out the crucial technical wrinkles—they are going to focus on fine-tuning.

The core of their new project – Reliable Central Interfaces – is prosthetic dependability. No “technology push,” no bleeding-edge scientific studies, the agency says. For this, Darpa wants to establish solid reliability.

This endeavor is the latest in a legacy of prosthetic research that reflects the Pentagon’s efforts to help injured soldiers regain limb movement. Combining scientists’ knowledge of neuroscience with cutting-edge interface technology, their aim is to decode cues from brain neurons and transmit them to limb prostheses, allowing the paralyzed to move again. And it’s very close to realization.

One of the ancestors of this technology in 2004 allowed paraplegic ex-football player Matt Nagle to move a mouse cursor, open his emails and use a TV remote control, all with his mind.

Then came the DEKA arm, the invention where nerves from the armpit were re-routed into the chest. So the “move” command went from the brain to the chest, where sensors transmitted the instruction to the bionic arm.

Another innovative leap was the Modular Prosthetic Limb; for the first time, microchips were transplanted into a human brain from where they attempted to send a move command (via a computer) to the robot arm. The ambitious technology is still a busy work-in-progress.

Although there have been some giant strides in this field, the finish line remains out of sight. And that’s where the RCI project comes in.

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