It’s impossible for most of us to imagine what it’s like to wake up in the hospital after a car wreck and receive the devastating news that we’ve been paralyzed from the chest down — but that’s exactly what happened to Nathan Copeland, now 28, after his car veered off the road on a rainy night ten years ago. Now, a cutting edge medical invention will change his life once again — this time for the better.
Thanks to the development of a sensory-enhanced robotic hand, Copeland has regained the sense of touch in his fingers.
The hand is surgically wired to his brain, and it electrically stimulates the same areas of the brain that light up for an able individual when physically touched.
The word “robotic” carries the implication of unnatural, but Copeland spoke to The Guardian and described the feeling as “almost natural” — although it sounds like it’ll take a bit of getting used to:
“I can feel just about every finger, it’s a really weird sensation… Sometimes it feels electrical and sometimes its pressure, but for the most part, I can tell most of the fingers with definite precision. It feels like my fingers are getting touched or pushed.”
This incredible invention sheds light on how exactly brain stimulation evokes a natural sensation like touch.
Robert Gaunt, senior author of the study that resulted in the robotic arm, already has his sights on a new goal — to invent an arm that moves and feels exactly like a natural one would.
He acknowledges that this development will likely take years to develop, but the results of Copeland’s robotic arm have provided scientists with insight that will guide the development of the more natural-feeling arm.
Amazing inventions like the robotic arm provide hope that, someday, paralyzed individuals will have the chance to regain sensations that were once considered impossible.
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