Thought-controlled robotic limbs were only the beginning.
Darpa, the Pentagon’s blue-sky research division, now wants to ratchet that work up about ten notches, by developing a “neurally controlled artificial limb that will restore full motor and sensory capability to upper extremity amputee patients. This revolutionary prosthesis will be controlled, feel, look and perform like the native limb.”
So, basically, what Luke Skywalker gets in Empire Strikes Back, after Darth chops off his hand. Except, researchers won’t have a long, long time to get this limb ready. Darpa wants the robo-arm stat — in four years or less.
The limb would have to be wired directly into the peripheral nervous system, instead of the brain-controlled arms being demonstrated today, Darpa tells researchers interested in working on this “Revolutionizing Prosthetics” project. Under agency guidelines, the arm will need enough finesse to pick up a raisin or to write in longhand. It needs to be sensitive enough for the wearer to handle day-to-day tasks in the dark. And the limb will have to be strong enough to lift 60 pounds at a time.