Thought-controlled robotic limbs were only the beginning.
Scientists have had a string of remarkable successes lately, taking signals from the brains of monkeys and men, and using them to move mechanical arms.
Darpa, the Pentagon’s blue-sky research division, now wants to ratchet that work up about ten notches, by developing a “neurally controlled artificial limb that will restore full motor and sensory capability to upper extremity amputee patients. This revolutionary prosthesis will be controlled, feel, look and perform like the native limb.“
So, basically, what Luke Skywalker gets in Empire Strikes Back, after Darth chops off his hand. Except, researchers won’t have a long, long time to get this limb ready. Darpa wants the robo-arm stat — in four years or less.
The limb would have to be wired directly into the peripheral nervous system, instead of the brain-controlled arms being demonstrated today, Darpa tells researchers interested in working on this “Revolutionizing Prosthetics” project. Under agency guidelines, the arm will need enough finesse to pick up a raisin or to write in longhand. It needs to be sensitive enough for the wearer to handle day-to-day tasks in the dark. And the limb will have to be strong enough to lift 60 pounds at a time.
These are beyond ambitious goals, and even the even the big thinkers at Darpa acknowledge it. Breakthrough research in “neural control, sensory input, advanced mechanics and actuators, and prosthesis design and integration” will all be needed, the agency says in a call for proposals. Neuroscientists, roboticists, engineers, occupational therapists, and surgeons in the neural, orthopedic, reconstructive subspecialties will have to chip in.
“Revolutionizing Prosthetics” is so far-out that Darpa is taking the unusual step of hedging its bets, and running a parallel, more down-to-earth program.

The vision of the Prosthesis 2007 program is to leverage recent research advances in neural sensing, control systems, actuation, power storage and distribution, freeform manufacturing, neural control, microfabrication, sensory feedback, flexure and transmission design, signal processing, and information science to dramatically improve the capability of upper extremity prosthetic limbs beyond those that are currently available commercially. This vision will be realized by increasing the range of motion, strength, endurance, and dexterity of upper extremity prosthetic devices. The final product [an above-the-elbow prosthetic arm] must be ready for human clinical trials [and] sufficiently mature to enter the appropriate approval processes for general medical use by the end of 24 months.”

Sounds like a snap.


jmatt November 7, 2009 at 9:41 pm

Yeah, and every president since Reagan has proposed a Mars mission. Are we there yet?

Dan November 12, 2009 at 12:11 am

Actually, Mars has been talked about since Kennedy, so it's worse than you think. And the technology to get there was developed back then, too, so it's even worse yet than you think! I do hope we ge there. And I hope this device works.

withabrain February 4, 2010 at 12:15 am

Sure we're there. Spirit may be incapacitated, but it's still doing more research than Armstrong ever did. And Opportunity's still cruising, having already amassed far more surface distance traveled than all the lunar missions combined. We're getting tons more information from the rovers then we would from sending people to Mars, and at a tiny fraction of the cost.

Send more rovers!

Rio November 13, 2009 at 7:22 pm

There's a big difference between the indifference America shows to its space program and the money it spends on defense. Robotic limbs are a better investment; I don't think the wait for these will compare to the wait for Mars.

bob November 18, 2009 at 12:04 am

umm, that pic is from starwars

Alex` December 30, 2009 at 8:38 pm

Did you expect a pic of the actual fully functional cyborg?

fmawhore January 23, 2010 at 12:00 am


nick October 19, 2010 at 11:09 pm


Shogun37 February 28, 2010 at 10:09 pm

And just think, a "mind to computer" connection is a lot more useful than you'd think. Why have four guys in a tank when one can do the job? Or large crews for navy? The ideas are endless.

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