New nerve and muscle interfaces researched by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) are engineered to enable advanced prosthetic control and direct sensory feedback. According to a news release from the organization, its Reliable Neural-Interface Technology (RE-NET) program targeted research centered on the long-term viability of brain interfaces and continues its research to develop high-performance, reliable peripheral interfaces. The peripheral interfaces are intended to use signals from nerves or muscles to control prosthetics and provide direct sensory feedback.
Jack Judy, DARPA program manager, explains that, “The novel peripheral interfaces developed under RE-NET are approaching the level of control demonstrated by cortical interfaces and have better biotic and abiotic performance and reliability. Because implanting them is a lower-risk and less-invasive procedure, peripheral interfaces offer greater potential than penetrating cortical electrodes for near-term treatment of amputees.” Judy adds that the program’s advances are currently being made available to injured warfighters in clinical settings.
DARPA reports that Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago (RIC) researchers recently demonstrated a type of peripheral interface called targeted muscle re-innervation (TMR). The organization adds that by rewiring nerves from amputated limbs, new interfaces allow for prosthetic control with existing muscles.
The release notes to demonstrate direct sensory feedback, Case Western Reserve University researchers used a flat interface nerve electrode (FINE). The technology interfaces with residual nerves in the patient’s partial limb, restoring some sense of touch. Direct sensory feedback reportedly allows patients to move a hand without keeping their eyes on it, allowing them to execute tasks such as searching through a bag for small items. DARPA states that the FINE is one of many different types of nerve interfaces developed under the RE-NET program.
To view this technology in action, click here.
DARPA notes that its current efforts with peripheral interfaces are scheduled to continue up to 2016.
[Photo Credit: DARPA]