Darpa is ready to test mind-controlled prostheses

A Darpa-sponsored team is working on a mind-controlled prosthetic arm that works by physically implanting a chip in the brain.
Written by Dan Nosowitz, Contributing Editor

Darpa is responsible for all kinds of oddball scientific experiments, but this one has equal parts sci-fi craziness and pure utility: a mind-controlled prosthetic arm.

A team from Johns Hopkins, funded by a $34.5 million contract from Darpa, is getting ready to test its Modular Prosthetic Limb (MPL) on a human for the first time. The prosthetic requires a micro-array physically implanted into the patient's brain which records signals and pushes them out to the limb to be executed.

The MPL offers 22 degrees of motion, including each finger, allows for a sort of feedback mechanism reminiscent of the sense of touch, and weighs only about nine pounds--about the same as an organic human arm.

Johns Hopkins, with the help of a group of other Darpa-funded teams from Caltech and the Universities of Pittsburgh, Utah, and Chicago, hopes to test the MPL on five patients within the next two years. They're hoping the research and feedback will allow them to implement ever more realistic features, including pressure and touch.

Wired notes that these projects are exceedingly difficult--Darpa recently created another team to address a two-year lifespan of the implanted part of a similar device. But it's a tremendously worthwhile and exciting project.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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