Research

Neural Control of Prosthetics

Advanced prosthetics

Researchers in Intelligent Systems, Robotics, & Cybernetics are working on ways to improve amputees’ control over prosthetics with direct help from their own nervous systems.

Neural interfaces operate where the nervous system and an artificial device intersect. Interfaces can monitor nerve signals or provide inputs that let amputees control prosthetic devices by direct neural signals, the same way they would control parts of their own bodies.

Challenge

Interfaces must be:

  • structured so nerve fibers can grow through,
  • mechanically compatible so they don’t harm the nervous system or surrounding tissues,
  • biocompatible to integrate with tissue and promote nerve fiber growth,
  • conductive to allow electrode sites to connect with external circuitry, and the electrical properties must be tuned to transmit neural signals.

Need

The Amputee Coalition estimates 2 million people in the United States are living with limb loss. The Congressional Research Service reports more than 1,600 amputations involving U.S. troops between 2001 and 2010, more than 1,400 of those associated with the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. Most were major limb amputations.

Solution

Robotics approached the problem from a technical point of view, looking at improving implantable and wearable neural interface electronics.

Sandia’s research focused on biomaterials and peripheral nerves at the interface site. The idea was to match material properties to nerve fibers with flexible, conductive materials that are biocompatible so they can integrate with nerve bundles.

Features/Benefits

Improved prosthetics with flexible nerve-to-nerve or nerve-to-muscle interfaces let amputees control prosthetic devices by direct neural signals, the same way they would control parts of their own bodies.

Applications

This proof-of-concept work is being used to obtain third-party funding so researchers can bring the technology to wounded warriors, amputees, and victims of peripheral nerve injury.

Read the full news release.