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Using our heads ... to move our limbs


The line where man meets machine is blurred in a Johns Hopkins laboratory. Nitish Thakor's Biomedical Instrumentation and Neuroengineering Lab has developed prosthetic fingertips that "feel" temperature with skin-like cosmesis embedded with sensors.

Thakor, who teaches classes in the Johns Hopkins Whiting School of Engineering, and his research team of more than 20 students and faculty are using robotics to help develop the next generation of prosthetics.

"Most amputees today don't use their prosthetic limbs on a daily basis because the limb is bulky, mechanically heavy, and not aesthetically pleasing," Soumyadipta Acharya, a PhD candidate in biomedical engineering on Thakor's team, said. "This project is revolutionizing the way we control and feel artificial limbs using signals from our brain, nerves and muscles directly."

The prosthetic hand with individually moving fingers is controlled by the brain using a cap covered with sensors. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) sponsors the research as part of the Revolutionizing Prosthetics 2009 program. DARPA awarded the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory $30.4 million as part of an international effort to produce better prosthetics for those handicapped by accidents, disease, birth defects and war.

This research is made possible by the association between three world-class programs within the Johns Hopkins University - the School of Medicine, the Whiting School of Engineering and the Applied Physics Laboratory. This synergy provides students at Johns Hopkins the opportunity to work with and contribute to research programs like Thakor's work with robotic prosthesis.


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