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Artificial Arm Researchers Restore Feeling of Missing Limb

New knowledge will let amputees control and feel with robotic arms

3 min read

30 November 2007—Over the past two years, neuroscientists have found a way to redirect the arm nerves of amputees to their chest muscles, allowing them to use the chest to intuitively control a prosthetic arm and even to feel some pressure applied to the limb. More recently, they found that the patients could actually feel touch on the skin of the chest as if it were on the skin of the missing hand. Now doctors at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago have mapped the sensitive spots on the chest to specific parts of the missing fingers and hands, and have even found that the missing fingers can ”feel” heat, cold, and pain. With such a map at their disposal, researchers are a big step closer to making artificial limbs that patients can not only control but feel as well. They reported their results in this week’s Proceedings of the National Academies of Science.

”What we’re doing is creating a portal to the nervous system,” says Todd Kuiken, director of the Neural Engineering Center for Bionic Medicine at the RIC, one of several organizations funded by a large U.S. Defense Department project called Revolutionizing Prosthetics. Kuiken pioneered the surgical procedure that led to the breakthrough. Called targeted muscle reinnervation (TMR), it involves surgically rewiring the entire shoulder by redirecting what are called residual nerves. These are bundles of nerves that connect the upper spinal cord to the 70 000 nerve fibers in the arm. In their normal layout, these travel from the upper spinal cord, across the shoulder, down into the armpit, and into the arm.

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Are You Ready for Workplace Brain Scanning?

Extracting and using brain data will make workers happier and more productive, backers say

11 min read
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A photo collage showing a man wearing a eeg headset while looking at a computer screen.
Nadia Radic
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Get ready: Neurotechnology is coming to the workplace. Neural sensors are now reliable and affordable enough to support commercial pilot projects that extract productivity-enhancing data from workers’ brains. These projects aren’t confined to specialized workplaces; they’re also happening in offices, factories, farms, and airports. The companies and people behind these neurotech devices are certain that they will improve our lives. But there are serious questions about whether work should be organized around certain functions of the brain, rather than the person as a whole.

To be clear, the kind of neurotech that’s currently available is nowhere close to reading minds. Sensors detect electrical activity across different areas of the brain, and the patterns in that activity can be broadly correlated with different feelings or physiological responses, such as stress, focus, or a reaction to external stimuli. These data can be exploited to make workers more efficient—and, proponents of the technology say, to make them happier. Two of the most interesting innovators in this field are the Israel-based startup InnerEye, which aims to give workers superhuman abilities, and Emotiv, a Silicon Valley neurotech company that’s bringing a brain-tracking wearable to office workers, including those working remotely.

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