The CogLaboration project focuses on the object transfer procedure between a robot and a human, considered to be a key aspect to be addressed in order to provide successful and efficient robotic assistance to humans.
Research from the University of Chicago, in the United States, is laying the groundwork for creating touch-sensitive prosthetic, so that one day they can transmit real-time sensory information to amputees through a direct interface with the brain . The study, published in the online edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, is an important step towards a new technology that, if properly applied, would increase the skill and clinical feasibility of robotic prostheses. Experiments with monkeys have produced the identification in neural activity patterns that occur during the handling of natural objects.
"To restore sensory motor function of the arm, not only replace motor signals that the brain sends to the arm to move it, but you also have to replace the arm sensory signals sent back to the brain," said the author study lead Bensmaia Sliman, assistant professor in the Department of Organismal Biology and Anatomy at the University of Chicago. In his view, the key is to draw on the knowledge of how the brain intact organism processes sensory information to try to reproduce these patterns of neuronal activity through brain stimulation.
Bensmaia's research is part of "Revolutionizing Prosthetics", a multi-year initiative of the Defense Agency Research Projects to create an artificial upper limb that will restore natural motor control and sensation in amputees. Managed by the Applied Physics Laboratory of Johns Hopkins University in the United States, the project has brought together an interdisciplinary team of experts from academic institutions, government agencies and private companies.
Bensmaia and his colleagues at the University of Chicago are working specifically on the sensory aspects of the extremities. In a series of experiments with monkeys, whose sensory systems closely resemble those of humans, identified patterns of neural activity that occur during the manipulation of natural objects and then successfully induced through artificial means.
The first set of experiments are focused on the contact location or the detection where has touched the skin. The animals were trained to identify various patterns of physical contact with her fingers and then scientists are connected electrodes to the areas of the brain that correspond to each finger and replaced the physical touch by electrical stimuli to the appropriate areas of the brain, so that animals responded equally to artificial stimulation as they did with physical contact.
Next, the researchers focused on the sensation of pressure. In this case, developed an algorithm to generate the appropriate amount of electric current to cause a feeling of pressure and, again, the response of the animals was the same with the stimuli through fingers or by artificial means.
Finally, Bensmaia and his colleagues studied the sensation of touch events. When the first hand touches or releases an object, an explosion of activity in the brain is happened. Again, the researchers found that these bursts of brain activity can be mimicked by electrical stimulation.
The result of these experiments is a set of instructions that can be incorporated in a prosthetic robotic arm to provide sensory feedback to the brain through a neural interface. Bensmaia believes this information will advance with these devices so they can be tested in human clinical trials.