HAPTIX is the latest DARPA program to improve prosthetic limbs for injured service members and others. It stands for Hand Proprioception and Touch Interfaces and the goal is to create hands that can touch and feel. This will requires a flexible mechanical hand, interfaces between the hand and the central nervous system, and software to communicate and interpret the electrical signals.
The HAPTIX team will leverage available technologies such as intramuscular electrodes used for cardiac pacemakers. Adding touch sensors to the artificial limb will allow a rich sensory experience that will encourage users to wear their prostheses all the time.
What HAPTIX is trying to do is make the operation of arms like this as transparent to the user as possible. At this point, the arms themselves are mechanically pretty good. What’s missing is the interface. Specifically, a two-way interface, where the user can leverage their brain and nervous system to control the arm intuitively, while receiving force and touch feedback from sensors on the arm along those same channels. The robot arm should behave like a biological arm, be controlled like a biological arm, and feel like a biological arm.
Other advancements for prosthetics include the DEKA Arm System.
Watch an Army volunteer amputee use the DEKA arm to climb up a rock wall.
DARPA has tasked the Open Source Robotics Foundation with developing a simulation environment for prosthetics so that researchers can test out software and interfaces. This video shows tests of Neural Interfaces with a head tracker, arm tracker and 3D glasses.