Illusory movement perception improves motor control for prosthetic hands

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Science Translational Medicine  14 Mar 2018:
Vol. 10, Issue 432, eaao6990
DOI: 10.1126/scitranslmed.aao6990

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Good vibrations for movement perception

The ability to sense the spatial position and movements of one’s own body (kinesthetic sense) is critical for limb use. Because prostheses do not provide physical feedback during movement, amputees may not feel that they are in control of their bodily movements (sense of agency) when manipulating a prosthesis. Marasco et al. developed an automated neural-machine interface that vibrates the muscles used for control of prosthetic hands. This system instilled kinesthetic sense in amputees, allowing them to control prosthetic hand movements in the absence of visual feedback and increasing their sense of agency. This approach might be an effective strategy for improving motor performance and quality of life in amputees.


To effortlessly complete an intentional movement, the brain needs feedback from the body regarding the movement’s progress. This largely nonconscious kinesthetic sense helps the brain to learn relationships between motor commands and outcomes to correct movement errors. Prosthetic systems for restoring function have predominantly focused on controlling motorized joint movement. Without the kinesthetic sense, however, these devices do not become intuitively controllable. We report a method for endowing human amputees with a kinesthetic perception of dexterous robotic hands. Vibrating the muscles used for prosthetic control via a neural-machine interface produced the illusory perception of complex grip movements. Within minutes, three amputees integrated this kinesthetic feedback and improved movement control. Combining intent, kinesthesia, and vision instilled participants with a sense of agency over the robotic movements. This feedback approach for closed-loop control opens a pathway to seamless integration of minds and machines.

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