Hot, cold, pleasure, and pain course through your nerves as you feel the world around you. Sensation beckons with every single raindrop that bounces off of your palms. To feel and to make another feel, forges a direct link from our existence as physical beings to our emotional and mental persona. Cascading memories and emotions flutter around with every single touch. Who knows about this amalgam of processes that occur amid the sensory inputs and interactions that are made with just a single touch?
Now, what if there's a prosthetic that could bring some of these indescribably sensations back?
That is the hope of a group of European researchers who are on their way to making the next generation of prosthetic limbs. Think about being able to distinguish between an orange or a baseball using your robotic hand while blindfolded. Think about being able to measure your grip while holding things. You won't crush an egg while holding it. You won't worry about your robotic vise grip when holding the hand of another person. You can shake hands with confidence knowing that your ability to do so won't result in sending another person to the hospital.
Maybe there will even come a time when you could not just feel the full range of sensations that you used to feel, but more. For one, you could hug somebody you love and feel their warmth, softness and movement just like you did before.
Biorobotics and Neuroprosthetics
Our generation is finally reaping the rewards of global scientific endeavors to enhance human life by merging it with robotics. More than that, through the efforts of scientists like Silvestro Micera of École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne who made it his life goal to merge man and machine, this merging has even gone beyond our physical body and into our mind. More often than not, these feats of science and engineering feature the people who benefit from it more than the people who work countless years behind the scenes.
Like an unseen Lego block building, these scientists build upon the work of each other and learn from hundreds if not thousands of procedures and approaches that have not worked in the past. What culminates is a thriving ecosystem of discovery and invention that eventually pave the way to the future we only used to see in science fiction.
The majority application for these technologies are currently leaning towards medical application and usage. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan may have spurred development into high gear with all the injuries and amputations received by soldiers due to explosions.
I recall last night while I watched the cartoon series Justice League of America the prospects of a future with superheroes - and super villains. With robotic limbs that are soon becoming replacement limbs in the complete sense, the possible military and law enforcement application for these is just mind boggling. At the same time these limbs could also be enhanced to give people with different creeds and callings enhanced abilities, capabilities that could be used for good or evil.
But for now, let's cherish this moment in the history of our world when many people who've lost their limbs would finally be able to feel, touch and hug the people they care about using these amazing robotic limbs.
Creative Commons Image via Flickr