Scientists bring the sense of touch to the robotic arm: the shots

President Barack Obama punched fists with Nathan Copeland on an innovative project tour at the White House Borders Conference at the University of Pittsburgh in 2016.

Susan Walsh / AP

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Susan Walsh / AP

President Barack Obama punched fists with Nathan Copeland on an innovative project tour at the White House Borders Conference at the University of Pittsburgh in 2016.

Susan Walsh / AP

The palpable robotic arm enabled the paralyzed man to quickly perform tasks such as pouring water from one cup to another.

The robotic arm provides haptic feedback directly to the man’s brain as he uses his thoughts to control the device as a team the report Thursday in the magazine Science.

Previous versions of the arm had required the participant, Nathan Copeland, to direct the arm only visually.

“When I only received a visual response, I could see that the hand had touched the body,” Copeland says. “But sometimes I picked it up and fell off.”

Model Copeland also took about 20 seconds to complete. He says, “Through sensory responses, he was able to complete it in 10” Jennifer Collinger, Associate Professor in the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at the University of Pittsburgh.

Collinger says haptic information is important for prosthetic use because it is difficult to grasp an object that you are not feeling.

“Even something as simple as picking up a cup and trying to maintain the correct amount of pressure while moving it to a different location depends a lot on the tactile feedback of your hand,” she says.

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