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By Brian Robinson

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DARPA aims for fiber-optic link between warfighters' minds, bodies

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is famed for its prowess at delivering increasingly effective ways for warfighters to deliver mayhem to their enemies, and it seems that DARPA also is as determined to look after their minds and bodies.

The latest effort is a $5.6 million award to Southern Methodist University to fund its Neurophotonics Research Center’s development of two-way fiber optic communication between prosthetic limbs and the wearer’s peripheral nerves.

All allusions to cyborgs aside (and there’s been plenty of those), the research has the deadly serious aim of helping amputees get back as much function as possible to help them in their post-warfighter lives. The research at SMU has the real chance of giving amputees an effective way of “feeling” their artificial limbs, which could revolutionize their freedom of movement and agility.

Unlike most DOD-funded work, this research also has a very clear implication in the civilian world. As well as lost limbs, there also are tens of thousands of spinal cord injuries in the United States each year, with the consequent hit to individuals’ lives and to the well-being of their families, not to mention the economy overall.

DARPA is also funding research into direct stimulus of brain functions that could help soldiers deal better with battlefield stress and even reduce the effects of traumatic brain injuries. Technology that could do this could be built directly into soldiers’ helmets.

With multiple recent announcements of technology-enabled brain-body links, such as a chip that can be implanted in the brain to help with controlling prosthetics, it’s no longer science fiction to believe that people with shattered limbs and minds --- helped by U.S. military research -- can be made almost whole again.

 

Posted by Brian Robinson on Sep 22, 2010 at 12:20 PM


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