Although prosthetic hands give amputees a way to grasp objects, they do not offer a sense of touch. That means the person has to watch his or her robotic hand as it reaches to push or pick up an item.
Now researchers at the University of Chicago might have found a way to add touch to prosthetic limbs. The research, which appears in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, is funded in part by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, and it's not hard to see why the military would be interested. Beyond dreams of cyborg warriors, there's the more prosaic matter of helping injured veterans.
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The study, led by Sliman Bensmaia, assistant professor in biology and anatomy, identified patterns of neural activity that occur when monkeys manipulate objects and then induced these patterns artificially.
First he and his team connected electrodes to areas of a monkey's brain that corresponded to each of its finger. The idea was to find out what kind of brain activity occurred when monkeys pick up or touch something.