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Medicine Science Technology

New Interface Could Wire Prosthetics Directly Into Amputees' Nervous Systems 160

Posted by samzenpus
from the we-can-make-him-better dept.
cylonlover writes "Scientists at Sandia National Laboratories have announced a breakthrough in prosthetics that may one day allow artificial limbs to be controlled by their wearers as naturally as organic ones, as well as providing sensations of touch and feeling. The scientists have developed a new interface consisting of a porous, flexible, conductive, biocompatible material through which nerve fibers can grow and act as a sort of junction through which nerve impulses can pass to the prosthesis and data from the prosthesis back to the nerve. If this new interface is successful, it has the potential to one day allow nerves to be connected directly to artificial limbs."
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New Interface Could Wire Prosthetics Directly Into Amputees' Nervous Systems

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 05, 2012 @01:21PM (#39249875)

    Stop punching yourself.
    Stop punching yourself.
    Stop punching yourself.

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      Ghost in the Shell
      • Fullmetal Alchemist
      • Neuromancer
      • by gknoy (899301)

        While the comments about augmentation in other fiction (Neuromancer, Fullmetal Alchemist) are interesting, I think that the Ghost in the Shell comment is more apropos. Ghost in the Shell has numerous instances where people's man-machine interface is hacked, some of which are central plot points of several different episodes. People are puppeteered to say or do things, including things like kill themselves (or others).

        I don't remember things in Gibson's stories that did that explicitly, though of course my

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Tablizer (95088)

      God, I have a hell of an urge to allow such "technology" on politicians.

      Let's change our voting system so that we can optionally issue a punch instead of a vote. CEO's also.

      "Sir, you are wearing out the lever. Please let others have their turn."

  • They aren't by chance starting a company called Sarif are they?
  • I welcome my new Borg overlords.
  • Holy Crap (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Bovius (1243040) on Monday March 05, 2012 @01:30PM (#39250035)

    I know this is still a research project and they don't know how well it's actually going to work in practice, but the fact that we're approaching a machine-nerve interface at all is incredible. If they are successful, they will end up with a permanent, prominent place in our history books.

    Good work, people.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward
      I saw the same functionality, i.e., artificial limbs controlled by a machine-nerve interface, demoed during a plenary talk at the 2008 IEEE Engineering in Biology and Medicine conference, and the results were incredible. One man, who had lost an arm, but had one of these artificial ones grafted on, was practically as dexterous as those with a natural arm and was able to interact with everyday objects with ease.
  • by torchdragon (816357) on Monday March 05, 2012 @01:31PM (#39250037) Homepage

    Excellent! Now we can build Copters, Thinkers, Drop Pods and start work on the The Cyborg Factory.

  • Can't wait to replace all my tablets, touchscreens, wireless mice, and keyboards with my new virtual cybernectic tail. Cybernectic telephathy is the future. Rest in piece copyright, tellivisons, and hand held cell phones.
  • by Oswald McWeany (2428506) on Monday March 05, 2012 @01:38PM (#39250157)

    Are cyborgs safe from becomming zombies?

    If so- I want all my body parts converted to artificial parts BEFORE the zombie apocalypse. Afterwards it would be too late.

    • by slyrat (1143997)

      Are cyborgs safe from becoming zombies?

      If so- I want all my body parts converted to artificial parts BEFORE the zombie apocalypse. Afterwards it would be too late.

      Depends, I would assume that to still be a cyborg and not a robot you would need to have your brain intact. So even if everything else was converted you could still at least be zombified via the brain. Admittedly you might be immune because of the body being non-flesh but not completely.

      • by Thud457 (234763)
        that explains a lot -- zombies are actually evangelical early adopter FOSS extropian cyborgs!
        • when they're saying BRAAAAINSSS , they're actually trying to advocate your relocating your brain into a cyborg/zombie body
        • incomplete, faulty implementation, leading to control problems, including faulty speech processing
        • they smell
        • also, this gives us a plausible mechanism for zombies to be scientifically feasible, unlike "The Walking Dead", "I am legend", "Resident Evil", "Bubba Ho-Tep" or "Planet Fear"

        /jk!

  • The idea of direct neural interfaces has intrigued me all through my years of reading about cyborgs and brain-in-a-bottle science fiction.

    But when it comes to practical application, one thing has always puzzled me: How do you disconnect the device once it's "grown" into being part of your nervous system? How do you replace failed parts or repair the electronic/mechanical component of such devices?

    The "Six Million Dollar Man" made for entertaining TV, but in practicality, was he supposed to lie on a gu

    • by cp.tar (871488)

      I should say it would be no worse than the original amputation.

    • I don't understand what problem you think exists. Assuming the interface itself doesn't need to be replaced, you just pull a connector (which leads to the nerve/wire interface) and remove the artificial limb or whatever. I guess you could be temporarily inconvenienced by having your arms/legs in the shop. You'd probably get some phantom limb syndrome too.

      • by msobkow (48369)

        I'm not so sure about that at all. In order for there to be a grown neural interface, there has to be a component that merges with the flesh, what you refer to as a connector (and which I think of as a mount point, like a gun turret.)

        My concern is not just the failure of the attached prosthetic, which could be detached and repaired as you suggest, but the components of the neural interface itself. I think it's far more likely that as time progresses, such devices would be designed and built with the id

        • by mhajicek (1582795)
          It's always possible that you could develop a problem with the connector, but the connector has a very small percentage of failure points compared to the whole system. It's also relatively protected. Imagine you wipe out on a motorcycle and grind down your palm, forearm, and elbow. Chances are the connector will be just fine, provided the bone mounting point was sufficiently reinforced.

          If a CNC milling machine crashes it's tool into the workpiece, it's possible to damage the spindle, but usually it's j

    • by timeOday (582209)
      This is no joke: Hundreds of thousands' fitted with faulty hip implants [nydailynews.com].

      The thing we have working for us is that devices don't have to last forever - just until you die. So in practice, risky procedures (and drugs) become mainstream by starting on patients with extremely short life expectancies or very low quality of life, and then gradually reducing the threshold for using the treatment as the kinks are worked out. But young people who receive joint replacements today are told they'll last 10-20 years [drstoller.com]

  • Adverse Events (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Milo Fungus (232863) on Monday March 05, 2012 @01:48PM (#39250299)
    I am a doctor. In fact, I am a neurologist (IAAN). This article is fascinating, and I hope they keep working on this technology and get it working. That being said, I would never plug one of these things into my own amputated limb. Going to medical school and doing residency have turned me into something of a Luddite. Medical technology is cool, but every treatment has potential benefits and toxicities. The adverse event I would worry about most with this technology is neuropathic pain. Neuropathic pain is notoriously difficult to treat. What if you plugged this device into some amputee's limb and gave them excruciating pain? I would rather have a metal hook for a hand.
    • by Hentes (2461350)

      If they still have at least one hand, just put an off switch on it.

    • It'd be very localised neuropathic pain, coming just from the area of the interface... so couldn't the nerves just be re-severed? Worst case you'd lose a bit more sensation in your limb-stump and be left with a big medical bill.
      • by mhajicek (1582795)
        Not necessarily. As I understand it, while the signal would be entering at the interface point it could be describing pain in every part of the arm distal to the interface. In addition, pain nerves have memory (hence "ghost pains") so once the pain has been started even removing the interface and the nerve it connected to may not stop the pain, as it may be maintained closer to or inside the brain. On the other hand, there has been some success and reinitializing nerves which are locked on pain, by use o
    • by d3ac0n (715594)

      Since you are a neurologist, I would be interested in your thoughts on using this interface technology in repairing damaged neural pathways or in creating ones that never grew properly (IE: Spinal injury or Spina Bifida)

      It seems to me that the ability to simply lay in conductive neural lattices to connect broken pathways would be a HUGE boon *plegics of all stripes and for birth defect victims.

      Unless I am hugely underestimating the complexity of the task (likely) or simply mis-reading the article (less li

      • by mikael (484)

        The problem is that the nerves in the spinal column don't regenerate. Something about the spinal fluid retarding growth or something similar.

        • by mhajicek (1582795)
          Nerves do regenerate, but at a very slow rate. About a millimeter per year, IIRC. I have feeling again in a fingertip which was smashed 90% off, though it returned very gradually over the course of a couple years. In certain experimental circumstances this can be assisted with stem cells, nutrients, and hormones.
      • I doubt this technology will work in the spinal cord. Getting nerves to grow in the peripheral nervous system is pretty easy - they do it on their own. Damaged peripheral nerve axons regrow at a rate of about 1 mm/day, so if you damage a nerve in your armpit it will take weeks to regrow all the way down to your fingertips. Getting nerves to grow in the central nervous system (brain + spinal cord) is tricky. The molecular signaling in the central nervous system actively inhibits regrowth of damaged nerve axo
    • by Ihmhi (1206036)

      I'd look at it more like a robot arm plus bonus Vicodin for the pain.

    • by kermidge (2221646)

      Fascinating, indeed. Given just the people I've known with peripheral nerve damage, spinal injuries, missing limbs, this could be a Godsend. Were I in a situation to have need for this I'm not sure I'd say never, although I agree I'd be leery of the pain possibilities; one hopes that could be avoided. I've long said I'd be third in line for an eye transplant - one to see if it works, two to make sure it wasn't a fluke, three, sign me up.

      Dr. Hook?

    • by Thud457 (234763)
      Isn't that one of the applications TENS [wikipedia.org] is for? I guess that would be difficult to apply to stuff that's not near the surface.
    • Well that's easy enough to fix; just put a firewall on it. All outbound control signals to the artificial limb (or whatever) are allowed. Inbound receptor signals are filtered and the ones that go "pain" are blocked at the firewall, just like the spam and malware from a virus-laden Windows box.
    • by mikael (484)

      They did similar experiments with brain electrode vision. They placed a mesh of electrodes over the visual field of the brain and then gradually matched electrodes to locations in the visual field. Had to carefully balance the voltage levels as there was the risk of migraine, epilectic fit and dizziness. Main problem was that before the system was powered up, the brain had set all inputs to maximum gain in order to get visual input. Of course, there wasn't any. So when the electrodes were activated, there w

      • Yeah, I remember reading about that on Slashdot years ago. That must have been nearly ten years ago.
  • Also allows for the remote control of robotic surrogates. Think Avatar.

    • Or...Surrogates.

      Seriously we need to have a geek score penalty at this point for making a reference to Avatar when Surrogates is more appropriate. Especially since Surrogates is "harder" sci-fi.

      • I'm not sure which is stupider though. Surrogates had such a fantastic concept, but threw it all away with an utterly ridiculous ending.

        Because our 'hero' can cause a few trillion dollars in economic damage, a new civil war, the return of disease, planes falling from the sky, accidents on an epic scale... and yet still somehow get away with it?
        • I saw it as a morally ambiguous ending, you wonder if the hero is really the good guy at the end. From what I remember it would have been possible for Bruce Willis' character to get away with the crime, it would at the very least take a police investigation before they'd even know who to look for, so it's not like the cops knew he did it and didn't bother him.

          • They had a witness who watched him, CCTV coverage of the console room and computer logs. Open and shut case - espicially with the public (those who survive) out for blood. It takes a lot for one person to achieve a body count measured in Hitlers.

            It isn't morally ambiguous, because the writers tell the viewer he is doing the right thing. It's morally dumb, because the movie's idea of 'the right thing' would actually be a global disaster of record-breaking proportions, and possibly the collapse of civilisat
  • One day we will truly master the art of connecting human nervous systems to computers. And on the following day, some asshole will create the first neurological malware.

    The future is a tech-illiterate grandma driven insane by trojans, trying to claws her own eyes out just to try and make the continuous loop penis enlargement ads stop.

    • You can't really hack the nervous system itself any more than you could hack an analog circuit. All the electronic stuff is fair game though, so I hope the prosthetic limb manufacturers won't be as stupid as the car manufacturers...

  • by gurps_npc (621217) on Monday March 05, 2012 @02:03PM (#39250561) Homepage
    1) Organic fails WELL. By that I mean, it causes pain and minor damage before you do something stupid that destroys the entire organic object. Electronics fail badly. Little if any warning, and it operates on the performance edge, so sudden failure is usually catastrophic.

    2)Organics do minor self repair, for free (if time+ food = free). They are built to accept the minor damage it gives (see option 1) above.

    3) Organic maintenance is limited and automatic inbuilt. We call it SLEEP. Electronic maintenance involves constant attention to detail - oils, software patches, etc.

    4) Organics are evolved/designed to run far inside maximum tolerances. In extreme circumstances, they have hidden reserves that suddenly become accessible.

    5) Organics are self-replicating. No need for a factory.

    • by Dog-Cow (21281)

      5 complete non sequiturs. The thrust of the article is in helping amputees.

    • On the other hand:

      - Organics do not use interchangeable parts. You can make it work with horrible immunosurpressent hackery, but it's messy.

      That really outweighs everything else. If the new robo-arm breaks, you take it to the shop where they figure out which component has failed, yank it out and stick in a new one. Maintainance is only a problem if you are going somewhere isolated where you won't be able to get it to an expert easily to do the diagnosis.
      • by gurps_npc (621217)
        You don't have a twin do you? Some organics have interchangeable parts. We are working hard at cloning to solve that problem for the rest of us.

        As for outweighing the rest, you are outright WRONG.

        My entire argument was that the robo-arms break while the organic do NOT break.

        Maintenance is a problem ALL the time. Ask any car mechanic. A properly maintained car - even a lemon - will last a lifetime (80 years, or 8 million miles). An improperly maintained one breaks down after a couple of years and/or

        • The robo-arm doesn't need 100% uptime. Sure, it'll break, but that's acceptable because it's easily fixed. The worst case would be it's something the call-out mechanic can't fix, and you have to go armless for a week while they ship you a new one.

          I'm assuming the technology is standardised and common enough that you can actually call out the mechanic when it goes wrong, rather than have to wait for the arm's designer to come in person.
    • In short:
      If a machine fails: it can crash an require intervention. (generally)
      If an organic fails: it slowly degrades itself, having chance to fix whatever might be wrong, or at least notify someone. (generally)

  • The scientists have developed a new interface consisting of a porous, flexible, conductive, biocompatible material through which nerve fibers can grow and act as a sort of junction through which nerve impulses can pass to the prosthesis and data from the prosthesis back to the nerve.

    And they call it: Conjunction Junction.

  • While a bionic arm might be able to move faster, would possibly be more durable, and could be designed to crush those really formidable keg cans between bicep and forearm, it won't convey the owner with the power to lift cars. Connected merely to bone and muscle, a mere human anatomy wouldn't support a car's weight, and the arm would likely just tear itself free (that being said, consider that people *have* lifted cars and it goes to show just how amazing our own body is). You would need support to the fl

  • by JustNilt (984644) on Monday March 05, 2012 @02:30PM (#39251021) Homepage

    If this new interface is successful

    As with so many articles I see about "breakthroughs", this is the key bit. The researchers probably just needed another round of funding so they released some information about it. Call me when we actually have serious trials and it's about to start final testing.

  • This has been done already a long time ago in a galaxy far far away.
  • Nice but, I'll be even more impressed the day we learn how to regrow limbs.
  • Entering the matrix or becoming Borg.
  • Major issue was the strange sounds that went with it when in operation, that and time seemed to slow down. Was somewhat expensive, costing ~6 million to out fit a person with a few limbs. Hope this is an improvement.

  • I wonder if this eventually could have ramifications for certain cases of vision and hearing loss.
  • ...would you give up a finger to get a virtual finger interface?

    Just think of the possibilities...

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