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Project offers better control and new sensations in artificial arms and legs

In a partnership with Case Western Reserve University (CWRU) The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is working to tap directly into nerves in the arms and the legs to give soldiers direct control of prostheses and sensations of feeling.  The project is part of DARPA's Reliable Neural-Interface Technology (RE-NET) project.

Since 2000, more than 2,000 service members have received injuries that required the amputations of limbs, while another 2,600 had lesser amputations (such as the loss of a hand).  Of the soldiers who received electronic prosthetics most of them are cortically controlled -- or controlled by electrodes on the head/neck or headsets with built-in electrodes.

By contrast RE-NET's latest effort focuses on so-called "peripheral control", tapping into nerves in the remaining muscles in the limb stub to control the robotic limb and/or receive sensations from it.  The process uses flat interface nerve electrode (FINE).  The approach is dubbed "targeted muscle re-innervation" (TMR).

FINE electrode
An artist-rendered closeup of the flat interface electrode used for TMR.

Former Army Staff Sgt. Glen Lehman was injured in Iraq and participated in one study at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago (RIC).  Earlier versions of the technology relied primarily on cortical-routed electrodes; the latest version also uses peripheral control.  Sgt. Lehman demonstrates the gains in fine control in this video:

A second study at the CWU in Cleveland, Ohio restored a sensation of feeling using TMR.  

TMR muscle
An illustration of the TMR approach used to re-innervate a muscle and "feel" a prosthetic limb.

The re-innervation technique allow the wounded soldier to "feel" sensations in his fingertips.  This allowed them to rummage through and select objects from a small bag of items -- a capability not possible with current generation prosthetics.

Jack Judy, DARPA program manager for the RE-NET project is enthusiastic about the early successes of TMR.  He comments:

Although the current generation of brain, or cortical, interfaces have been used to control many degrees of freedom in an advanced prosthesis, researchers are still working on improving their long-term viability and performance.  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. RE-NET program advances are already being made available to injured warfighters in clinical settings.

With the RE-NET program, DARPA took on the mission of giving our wounded vets increased control of advanced prosthetics.  TMR is already being used by numerous amputees at military hospitals. As the RE-NET program continues, we expect that the limb-control and sensory-feedback capabilities of peripheral-interface technologies will increase and that they will become even more widely available in the future.

The RE-NET project will continue with a series of studies through 2016.

Sources: DARPA, RIC

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We can rebuild him
By BRB29 on 5/31/2013 12:41:17 PM , Rating: 5
faster, better, stronger!!

RE: We can rebuild him
By Schadenfroh on 5/31/2013 1:00:42 PM , Rating: 2
Pretty soon, we will have LIMB clinics on every corner!

RE: We can rebuild him
By BRB29 on 5/31/2013 1:12:39 PM , Rating: 2
I really wonder why I was voted down. Is it pure hate or somebody sensitive about disabled vets? Funny thing is, I'm one of them.

RE: We can rebuild him
By Schadenfroh on 5/31/2013 1:23:16 PM , Rating: 4
Dailytech users are likely too young to remember the series / reference.

RE: We can rebuild him
By Mitch101 on 5/31/2013 9:25:00 PM , Rating: 2
Damn is looks like the Movie was cancelled too not showing on IMDB.

Jim Carrey was going to play the Six Million Dollar Man.

RE: We can rebuild him
By Solandri on 5/31/2013 11:13:50 PM , Rating: 1
Six million dollars just doesn't go as far as it used to in 1974. And if you adjust for inflation, "the $28.3 million dollar man" doesn't sound as catchy.

RE: We can rebuild him
By lyeoh on 6/10/2013 12:49:34 PM , Rating: 2
RE: We can rebuild him
By invidious on 6/3/2013 9:40:54 AM , Rating: 1
It was referenced in a family guy skit a while back so there is no excuse.

RE: We can rebuild him
By Spuke on 5/31/2013 3:59:43 PM , Rating: 3
You're a vet? Thanks for your service. Which branch? I was in the Navy.

RE: We can rebuild him
By Shadowself on 5/31/2013 5:48:12 PM , Rating: 3
An interesting turn around from 40 years ago when I was in.

Back then, even if you came back missing pieces of your body or soul -- or both, you were usually labelled a "baby killer" and just as likely to get spit upon as to be thanked.

RE: We can rebuild him
By BRB29 on 5/31/2013 7:16:35 PM , Rating: 2

RE: We can rebuild him
By FastEddieLB on 6/2/2013 5:12:18 AM , Rating: 2
Semper Fi! My uncle is a Lt.Colonel in the army :)

One of your ads is malware
By neothe0ne on 5/31/2013 2:59:57 PM , Rating: 4
"Reported Attack Site" according to Firefox.

RE: One of your ads is malware
By JasonMick on 5/31/2013 3:30:07 PM , Rating: 5
"Reported Attack Site" according to Firefox.
Yep, we're on it. One of our third party advertising partners apparently unwittingly had some malicious stuff going on. They're cleaning it up, and we're keeping a closer eye on them in the future, as this is two strikes.

Trust me it's as much of a pain for us as it is for you. We've had pretty good luck with third parties ad services in that they're generally very responsible with the scripts in their advertising. However, this has happened once before. Last time it happened (same service) one of our writers got their MacBook infected (ironic, yes). But we'll make sure this gets cleaned up quickly (our tech folks were working on it since the early AM) and doesn't happen again.

Sorry about that! :(

By Cheesew1z69 on 6/1/2013 12:33:21 PM , Rating: 4
Oh come on, everyone knows Macs don't get infected! Ask Tony! Only Windows and Android do!

Simply amazing
By Scaredy Retard on 5/31/2013 6:07:56 PM , Rating: 3
It's amazing to see yet another example of the relentless advance of modern science. It wasn't until Louis Pasteur's research in the 1860s and then Robert Koch later that we had proof of germ theory. ~150 years later and now this. It's rather shocking to think about.

Also, I'll be very disappointed if, when I'm a wrinkled old man watching holovids of the first cyborg prototypes, if one of them isn't referred to as "Kusanagi" or "Batou" by some of the research team.

RE: Simply amazing
By HostileEffect on 5/31/2013 6:46:20 PM , Rating: 2
Cyborgs will be a foot note once we move to fully synthetic bodies, amino acids are but one flavor of flesh.

I doubt Batou could fend off a swarm of Tachikoma.

By TheEinstein on 5/31/2013 2:32:26 PM , Rating: 3
To hear him say he could feel better with his fingers and less with his thumb... astonishing... ximply astonishing.

Thank you DARPA for helping my injured brothers have a new hope, you are an amazing group... I am crying now cause I know how so many Veterans can benefit from this, truly a blessing for them all.

By Visual on 6/3/2013 4:59:11 AM , Rating: 2
I wish I could send the guy a copy of BioForge as a gift.

My first thought...
By inperfectdarkness on 6/3/2013 6:42:04 AM , Rating: 2
Enter J.C. Denton.

"Vista runs on Atom ... It's just no one uses it". -- Intel CEO Paul Otellini

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