17th May 2012
DARPA launched the Revolutionizing Prosthetics program in 2006 to advance the state of upper-limb prosthetic technology with the goals of improving quality of life for service-disabled veterans and ultimately giving them the option of returning to duty. Since then, Revolutionizing Prosthetics teams have developed two anthropomorphic advanced modular prototype prosthetic arm systems, including sockets, which offer increased range of motion, dexterity and control options. Through DARPA-funded work and partnerships with external researchers, the arm systems and supporting technology continue to advance.
In a recent development reported in the May 17 issue of Nature (“Reach and grasp by people with tetraplegia using a neurally controlled robotic arm”), researchers at Providence VA Medical Center, Brown University and Massachusetts General Hospital demonstrated the ability to control an advanced prosthetic arm using a direct neural interface system in humans with brainstem stroke.
The BrainGate research team was led by Drs. John Donoghue and Leigh Hochberg, VA researchers and professors at Brown and Brown/Harvard respectively, through funding from the Department of Veterans Affairs. This project featured collaboration with the National Institutes of Health, who provided additional funding, and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, who provided a Generation 2 advanced prosthetic arm developed by DEKA under DARPA’s Revolutionizing Prosthetics program. Microelectrode arrays were implanted in the motor cortex of the brains of two tetraplegic patients. With minimal prior use, the patients were able to control the arm in three-dimensional space and perform reach and grasp tasks.