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Robotic arm returns man's sense of touch

The patient was able to tell when scientists were pressing against specific fingers, even when they tried to ‘trick’ him by pressing two hands at once.

The robotic arm used in the test

US agency DARPA promised prosthetics that would produce realistic sensations, and it is making major progress on that front.

Researchers from the agency have successfully tested an artificial hand that gave a man a “near-neutral” feeling of touch.

In the test, the patient was able to tell when scientists were pressing against specific fingers, even when they tried to ‘trick’ him by pressing two hands at once.

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This feat was achieved by augmenting that thought-controlled hand with a set of pressure-sensitive torque motors wired directly to the patients’ brain – anytime the hand touched something it sent electrical signals that felt like flesh-and-bone-contact to the brain.

There’s still a lot that has to be done before this hardware is truly realistic. The sensors don’t cover the entire hand, they don’t account for temperature and other things a patient is likely to come in contact with on a daily basis.

However, thus still represents a major breakthrough for science and humanity because it presents amputees and paralysis victims with a chance to regain the tactility they once had.

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