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New nerve and muscle interfaces enable advanced prosthetic control

04 June 2013

Recent demonstrations may give amputees hope that they can soon take advantage of nerve and muscle interfaces, allowing close control of advanced prosthetics.

Artist's concept of Leaded Implantable Myoelectric Sensors to be used as a novel peripheral-interface technology with targeted muscle re-innervation (illustration courtesy of DARPA)

DARPA’s Reliable Neural-Interface Technology (RE-NET) programme has researched the long-term viability of brain interfaces and continues this work to develop high-performance, reliable peripheral interfaces.

These new peripheral interfaces use signals from nerves or muscles to both control prosthetics and to provide direct sensory feedback. Ongoing clinical trials present compelling examples of both interface types.

“Although the current generation of brain, or cortical, interfaces have been used to control many degrees of freedom in an advanced prosthesis, researchers are still working on improving their long-term viability and performance,” said Jack Judy, DARPA programme manager.

“The novel peripheral interfaces developed under RE-NET are approaching the level of control demonstrated by cortical interfaces and have better biotic and abiotic performance and reliability.

"Because implanting them is a lower risk and less invasive procedure, peripheral interfaces offer greater potential than penetrating cortical electrodes for near-term treatment of amputees.”

A team of researchers at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago demonstrated a type of peripheral interface called targeted muscle re-innervation (TMR). By rewiring nerves from amputated limbs, new interfaces allow for prosthetic control with existing muscles.

Former US Army Staff Sergeant Glen Lehman, injured in Iraq, recently demonstrated improved TMR technology. In this video, Lehman demonstrates simultaneous joint control of a prosthetic arm made possible by support from the RE-NET programme.

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