Monday, July 11, 2011

A Hand Possessed

Another step toward the man-machine interface

What if you could strap a simple looking belt around your upper forearm, and instantly have the skills of a concert pianist, a virtuoso harpist, or a skilled surgeon?

Well you can’t – at least not quite yet. But you might be surprised to hear that there’s work being done at University of Tokyo that is leading in that direction. It's called PossessedHand (really) and they are well beyond the theory phase. They have working prototypes that reliably allow electrical signals to muscles to prompt very specific finger movements. In the lab, they’ve had a set of people use the technique to help learn to play songs on a Japanese harp called a koto, with good results.

A belt (which isn’t so simple looking at this point) is strapped around a forearm and electrodes allow stimulation to reach the proper muscles to allow for specific movements.  This allows for control of 16 different joint movements.

While learning to play musical instruments seems like an interesting possibility, life-saving skills like surgery seem a little far off. Other applications might include physical or occupational therapies, prompting muscle movements that can help people on the road to recovery from injuries.

Under the right circumstances, I think I’d give it a try.  Would you let your hand be “possessed?” 

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