Paralysed man feels through robotic fingers in world-first breakthrough
Nathan Copeland, who was injured after crashing his car on a rainy night in Pennsylvania when he was just 18, spoke of experiencing a “really weird sensation” as he touches things.
He said it felt like “my fingers” were being touched or pushed.
Mr Copeland is able to feel using the robotic arm because it is connected to microelectrodes about half the size of a shirt button that were surgically implanted in his brain.
Before the operation, imaging techniques were used to identify the exact places that corresponded to feelings in his fingers and palm.
The discovery that people can regain some sensations using a so-called 'computer-brain interface' could revolutionise the treatment of paralysis.
One of the first things he did after he was injured was to enrol on the Pitt School of Medicine’s registry of patients willing to participate in clinical trials.
Ten years later, that led him to have the operation to fit the implants in his brain and rediscover what it is like to reach out and touch things.
“I can feel just about every finger – it’s a really weird sensation,” he said, speaking a month after the operation. "Sometimes it feels electrical and sometimes its pressure, but for the most part, I can tell most of the fingers with definite precision. It feels like my fingers are getting touched or pushed."
In tests, Mr Copeland was able to tell which of the robotic hand's fingers were being touched despite being blindfolded.
A sense of touch is one of the key things currently missing in robotic devices.
This is particularly important for picking something up – something heavy and solid like a brick requires a different approach to the delicate pressure control needed when handling a slice of cake, for example.
Click here for more information and to watch a video of Nathan's amazing experience.
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