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DARPA and OSRF Developing Next-Gen Prosthetic Limbs in Simulation and Reality

DARPA wants amputees to have prosthetics that act, and feel, just like real arms

2 min read
DARPA and OSRF Developing Next-Gen Prosthetic Limbs in Simulation and Reality
Image: DARPA

One of the most direct, tangible ways that robotics can help humanity is by restoring independence to people who don’t have it. This is especially true for robotic prosthetics, as they transition from systems with a mind of their own to systems that are leveraging your mind instead.

Earlier this week, DARPA announced contract awards for HAPTIX (“Hand Proprioception and Touch Interfaces”), a program that “seeks to create a prosthetic hand system that moves and provides sensation like a natural hand.”

It sounds cool, but what really drove the importance of this home for us were two videos that DARPA posted today: one showing amputees eating and drinking with DEKA arms—created by Dean Kamen’s DEKA R&D firm for DARPA—and another showing a U.S. Army volunteer using one to climb up a rock wall.

How cool is that? Here’s the other video:

These are early versions of the “Luke” arms from DEKA. You can read more about them here

What HAPTIX is trying to do is make the operation of arms like this as transparent to the user as possible. At this point, the arms themselves are mechanically pretty good. What’s missing is the interface. Specifically, a two-way interface, where the user can leverage their brain and nervous system to control the arm intuitively, while receiving force and touch feedback from sensors on the arm along those same channels. The robot arm should behave like a biological arm, be controlled like a biological arm, and feel like a biological arm.

HAPTIX seeks to create a sensory experience so rich and vibrant that users would want to wear their prostheses full time. The program plans to adapt one of the prosthetic limb systems developed recently under DARPA’s Revolutionizing Prosthetics program to incorporate interfaces that provide intuitive control and sensory feedback to users. These interfaces would build on advanced neural-interface technologies being developed through DARPA’s Reliable Neural-Interface Technology (RE-NET) program.

Where appropriate, HAPTIX teams intend to leverage commercially available technologies such as intramuscular electrodes and lead technologies developed initially for cardiac pacemakers and now used in several modern implantable medical devices. The program also plans to test advanced microelectrode array and nerve cuff electrode technologies that have been developed over the past two decades with support from the National Institutes of Health, the Department of Veterans Affairs and DARPA.

As you might expect (since it’s true with robotics in general), this hardware tends to be expensive to play around with. DARPA has tasked the Open Source Robotics Foundation with developing a Gazebo-based simulation environment for prosthetics so that researchers can test out software and interfaces:

HAPTIX is currently in Phase 1, which is “evaluating several distinct technical approaches.” Phase 2 will take the most successful of those approaches and mush them together into a complete, functional HAPTIX prosthetic system, which DARPA hopes to have ready for take-home trials within four years.

Via [ DARPA ] and [ OSRF ]

The Conversation (0)

How Robots Can Help Us Act and Feel Younger

Toyota’s Gill Pratt on enhancing independence in old age

10 min read
An illustration of a woman making a salad with robotic arms around her holding vegetables and other salad ingredients.
Dan Page

By 2050, the global population aged 65 or more will be nearly double what it is today. The number of people over the age of 80 will triple, approaching half a billion. Supporting an aging population is a worldwide concern, but this demographic shift is especially pronounced in Japan, where more than a third of Japanese will be 65 or older by midcentury.

Toyota Research Institute (TRI), which was established by Toyota Motor Corp. in 2015 to explore autonomous cars, robotics, and “human amplification technologies,” has also been focusing a significant portion of its research on ways to help older people maintain their health, happiness, and independence as long as possible. While an important goal in itself, improving self-sufficiency for the elderly also reduces the amount of support they need from society more broadly. And without technological help, sustaining this population in an effective and dignified manner will grow increasingly difficult—first in Japan, but globally soon after.

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