The US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has awarded contracts for the first phase of its hand proprioception and touch interfaces (HAPTIX) programme.
HAPTIX aims to create artificial limbs with natural sensations for wounded service members and veterans, enabling spontaneous and dexterous control of advanced prosthetic devices and reducing phantom limb pain that affects 80% of amputees.
DARPA programme manager Doug Weber said: "The ultimate goal for HAPTIX is to create a device that is safe, effective and reliable enough for use in everyday activities.
"DARPA is partnering with scientists at the [US] Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to help develop standards for verifying safety and quantifying benefits of this new class of advanced technologies.
"We hope to streamline the process of validating technologies that can help our military service members and veterans who have been injured while serving our country."
The contracts were awarded to the industry teams led by the Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland Clinic, Draper Laboratory, Nerves Incorporated, Ripple, the University of Pittsburgh and the University of Utah, as well as the University of Florida.
With an aim to evaluate several distinct technical approaches in phase one, DARPA is providing prosthetics simulation software, which includes a variant of the DARPA Robotics Challenge simulator from the June 2013 Virtual Robotics Challenge, to help performers more quickly and cost-effectively conduct their research.
The HAPTIX programme intends to modify one of the prosthetic limb systems developed under the agency's revolutionising prosthetics programme to incorporate interfaces that provide intuitive control and sensory feedback to users.
In addition, the companies will use commercially available technologies such as intramuscular electrodes and lead technologies that were initially developed for cardiac pacemakers.
The programme also seeks to evaluate advanced microelectrode array and nerve-cuff electrode technologies that have been developed over the past two decades with support from the National Institutes of Health, the US Department of Veterans Affairs and DARPA.
The successful technical approaches will continue into phase two, which includes the integration of selected technology components into a complete HAPTIX test system.
DARPA plans to start take-home trials of a complete, FDA-approved HAPTIX prosthesis system within the next four years.
Image: HAPTIX aims to create artificial limbs with natural sensations for wounded service members and veterans. Photo: courtesy of DARPA.