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Thought-controlled bionics coming soon

16 Jul

Lost an arm recently? Or are you just looking to upgrade? In either case, military scientists will soon have you covered.

Scientists working for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the Pentagon’s mad-science department, are getting ready to start human testing on a bionic arm that is controlled by thoughts, Wired‘s Danger Room reports. The arm – which has 22 degrees of motion, has haptic feedback that replicates the sense of touch and weighs about the same as the real thing – will be controlled by a neural interface implanted directly into the user’s brain. Scientists at John Hopkins plan to test it with five patients over the next two years.

Does this sound too science-fiction-y? Oh no. Check out this two-year old video where similar experiments were done with monkeys. You can clearly see the arms are working as they’re supposed to:

Here’s what the arm actually looks like. Amazing stuff, huh? It’s probably one of the best examples there is of positive military spending. The bionic arms and other prosthetics are of obvious value to soldiers who lose limbs, and the spin-offs for the non-military world are obvious.

There’s a whole chapter in Sex, Bombs and Burgers about how military research often results in toys – the Mindflex is a great example. This simple game from Mattel reads brainwaves through a headband worn by the user. The goal of the game is to guide a small ball, kept aloft by a series of fans, through obstacles on a board. The harder the user concentrates, the harder the fans blow and the higher the ball floats. Less concentration lowers the ball, and so on.

Mindflex uses a simple variation of electroencephalography (EEG) technology, which is not even close to the neural implants we’re talking about with the arm. Neural implants open up a whole new world of possibilities, from thought-controlled fighter planes all the way to an internet connection directly in your brain.

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Posted by on July 16, 2010 in bionics, DARPA, war

 

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