The gradual conversion of physical and tactile buttons – to touch-based surfaces, now present on both our tablets and smartphones, will almost certainly go down in history as one of the most significant shifts in technology that occurred during the 21st century.
There’s just one hurdle left to overcome: The technology, (at its most fundamental level), depends on a humans’ sense of touch in order to operate effectively — and some sadly don’t have that luxury.
Sure, companies such as Samsung, Microsoft, and even Apple, have in recent years tried to address the need for accessibility via the use of software. iOS 7’s ‘Assisted Touch’ feature being just one example of this effort. But, ultimately – these software solutions can never act as a substitute for the ‘sense of touch’ lost by those who have either gradually lost their sense of touch due to nerve damage, or who are perhaps now in need of prosthetics due to previously amputated limbs.
But, what if we told you that – one day soon – those who use prosthetic limbs may be able to use the human sense of touch to experience these touchscreen devices on a level which has never been available to them?
Sure, scientists have been trying to hack their way into the human nervous system for decades now, in an effort to try and determine, or as Popular Mechanics puts it: “hot-wire the brain”, to build more intuitive prostheses.
“They’ve come so far they can build robotic limbs that users control with their minds,” the magazine writes. But, that’s nothing compared to what might be coming. That’s because scientists are currently developing prostheses that are capable of “send[ing] signals to the body and brain.”
Above we see Dennis Sørensen, as he smiles after confidently being able to determine how each of the objects presented to him feel, in relation to their hardness or softness. The most remarkable part, is that, Sørensen is using a prosthetic hand in order to achieve this.
The team behind the study specifically claim to have developed a prosthetic hand that can feel texture, respond to pressure, and thus effectively restore an amputee’s lost “sense of touch.”
“We were able to delivery sensory information, and [Sørensen] was able to use that information in real time,” Bioengineer, Silvestro Micera, for the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) in Switzerland, and the Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna (SSSA) in Italy, explains.