As part of DARPA’s commitment to help restore full and natural functionality to wounded Service members and veterans, the Hand Proprioception and Touch Interfaces (HAPTIX) program seeks to create a prosthetic hand system that moves and provides sensation like a natural hand. Sensory feedback, especially from the hand, is vitally important for many functions, and HAPTIX seeks to create a sensory experience so rich and vibrant that users would want to wear their prostheses full time. Without this feedback, even the most advanced prosthetic limbs remain numb to users, a factor that impairs the limbs’ effectiveness and their wearers’ willingness to use them.
A key focus of the HAPTIX program is on creating technology to interface permanently with the peripheral nerves in humans. HAPTIX technologies aim to tap in to the motor and sensory signals of the arm, allowing users to control and sense the prosthesis via the same neural signaling pathways used for intact hands and arms. Direct access to these natural control signals is expected to enable more natural, intuitive control of complex hand movements, and the addition of sensory feedback may further improve hand functionality by enabling users to sense grip force and hand posture. In addition, sensory feedback may also provide important psychological benefits such as improving prosthesis “embodiment” and reducing the phantom limb pain that is suffered by approximately 80 percent of amputees.
DARPA has selected multi-disciplinary teams of scientists, engineers and clinicians to develop and integrate the electrodes, algorithms and electronics technology components for the HAPTIX system, which would be fully implantable and approved for long-term use by humans. As envisioned, the system will include electrodes for measuring prosthesis control signals from muscles and motor nerves, and sensory feedback will be delivered through electrodes placed in sensory nerves. Miniature, low-power electronic processors will provide wireless communication of signals between the electrodes and the prosthesis. In addition, fundamental neuroscience research will be performed to understand how the nervous system encodes motor and sensory information for the hand. This knowledge will guide the development of algorithms that enable intuitive control of the prosthesis and provide rich sensations of touch and proprioception. The completed HAPTIX system will be integrated with one of the advanced prosthetic limbs developed under the DARPA Revolutionizing Prosthetics program to create the first dexterous prosthetic limb with full sensory and motor capabilities that is suitable for home use. HAPTIX aims to culminate in a 12-month, take-home clinical trial of the complete HAPTIX prosthesis system.
HAPTIX will also enable cutting-edge breakthroughs in science and technology through the HAPTIX Advanced Studies program. DARPA is pursuing small-scale studies that will provide sensory feedback for lower-limb prosthetics, develop novel interfaces to increase resolution and scale, study the central nervous system response to nerve stimulation to significantly improve understanding of somatosensation, and develop anatomically inspired algorithms for motor decoding and sensory encoding.
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