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We’ve known for a few years now that DARPA-funded prosthetics research is yielding some pretty incredible technology. Now DARPA is literally building super heroic technology that enables amputees to control prosthetic limbs with their minds.
In science fiction terminology, you might say DARPA is building cyborgs, bionic men and women who for one unfortunate reason or another have lost a part of their body. Thanks to science they can now have it back and will soon be able to live completely normal lives.
The brilliant devices comes out of DARPA’s Reliable Neural-Interface Technology (RE-NET) program. “Although the current generation of brain, or cortical, interfaces have been used to control many degrees of freedom in an advanced prosthesis,” explains Jack Judy, DARPA program manager, “researchers are still working on improving their long-term viability and performance.”
Judy explains that the new prosthetic technology doesn’t plug directly into the brain as some mind-controlled limbs do. Instead, it reads the brain signals that are already pulsing through local nerves and muscles. Indeed, these signals are the some of the same interrupted signals that cause the phantom limb effect. Reconnecting those nerves to a robotic wires seems like a great way forward, and in fact, the military is already moving in that direction. “RE-NET program advances are already being made available to injured warfighters in clinical settings,” said Judy.
From here on out, we start to approach Star Trek-scale technology. One step up in sophistication from limbs that connect to nerves and muscles are devices that plug directly into the ol’ grey matter creating what’s called a brain-to-computer interface. A team of researchers built a bulky but functional setup that enabled a paraplegic woman to give herself a drink of water for the first time in nearly a decade.
This is only the beginning. We’ve seen bionic eyes help blind people see again. We’ve seen scientists 3D-print livers, blood vessels, jaw bones and stem cells. There’s even a crazy neuroscientist, Miguel Nicolelis, who’s building an exoskeleton that will enable a paralyzed person walk just like a normal person. He plans to unveil it at the next World Cup in Brazil, where he wants the device to help a patient walk out onto the field in front of billions of people. With breakthroughs like this taking place it seems as though there truly is no limit to what can be accomplished with technology.

Source: Gizmodo

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