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The prosthetic arm that promises the sense of touch to amputees

Imagine for a moment that you have lost one of your arms because of a serious injury. Without your arm, you have lost the ability to perform certain tasks as well as your ability to feel the world around you. Though you may have a prosthetic arm that helps you regain some of what you have lost, technology has been unable to replace the one thing you may miss the most: your sense of touch.

As you can imagine, a situation such as this would be devastating for most people. But thanks to the efforts of researchers at the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, amputees in the near future may not have to experience a world without touch. That's because researchers announced this month that they not only created a prosthetic arm that mimics one aspect of human touch, but their recent test of the arm successfully allowed a 28-year-old man to sense the world around him using the arm.

According to reports, pressure sensors in the new prosthetic arm detect objects in a person's environment. The device then sends those signals through wires to a chip implanted in a specific area of a subject's brain. The brain then interprets the signals as touch. In the study, which still needs to undergo peer review before being submitted to a scientific journal for publication, the 28-year-old tester said that during the tests, it felt "like his own hand was being touched."

Though this technology may be a ways away, the initial results of this study are promising, particularly for amputees or people with certain disorders that affect or negate their sense of touch. By returning this sense, individuals will be able to navigate their environments better, regaining a better sense of independence and confidence as well. And though they may be more expensive, the new prosthetics may be covered by disability benefits, which may come as a relief to some of our California readers who would like to see this new prosthetic become a reality in the near future.

Source: The Washington Post, "New prosthetic arm can restore lost sense of touch, DARPA claims," Rachel Feltman, Sept. 15, 2015

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