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What is the Brain-Machine Interface

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In 2006 DARPA launched the Revolutionizing Prosthetics program in a bid to speed up development of artificial arms, which had lagged behind in development compared to prosthetic legs. This ongoing effort created two high-tech arms: the Gen-3 Arm System and the Modular Prosthetic Limb.

Both limbs offer unprecedented range of motion and control. The Gen-3 "Luke" Arm?produced by DEKA Research and Development?is first and foremost a commercial device to be used by amputees. By contrast, the Modular Prosthetic Limb, completed in December 2010 by a team from the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, has been used as a research tool.

Johns Hopkins scientists have used the Modular Prosthetic Limb to test how the brain, directly connected to electrodes, can move an artificial arm. The results have been encouraging, to say the least: PopMech gave a Breakthrough Award to the research after Tim Hemmes, who had been left a quadriplegic after a motorcycle accident, became the first person to use his mind to manipulate the prosthesis, a feat the team achieved in September 2011.

"Since then we have successfully performed the procedure on another patient," says Michael McLoughlin, Johns Hopkins' principal investigator on the DARPA program. "The next step is to get tactile sensation sent back to the brain."

What is the Brain-Computer Interface Technology

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