The applications for virtual reality (VR) are near endless and now the immersive technology is being used to develop a new technique to help amputees use their prostheses limbs. The work is being carried out by researchers at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) and leverages VR technology and neural stimulation to help change an amputee’s “phantom limb” to more closely match that of their prosthetic limb making it more easy and natural to use.
As reported by medicalview, the research that the scientists at EPFL are carrying out aims to show that amputees can actually be convinced that the prosthetic hand belongs to their own body. This is done by going beyond the “seeing is believe” and instead of using the sense of sight alone they use an astute combination of sight and touch to help build the connections.
“The brain regularly uses its senses to evaluate what belongs to the body and what is external to the body. We showed exactly how vision and touch can be combined to trick the amputee’s brain into feeling what it sees, inducing embodiment of the prosthetic hand with an additional effect that the phantom limb grows into the prosthetic one,” explains Giulio Rognini of EPFL’s Laboratory of Cognitive Neuroprosthetics led by Olaf Blanke, speaking to medicalview. “The setup is portable and could one day be turned into a therapy to help patients embody their prosthetic limb permanently.”
In order to carry out the technique, amputees wear a VR headset through which they view a virtual prosthetic limb. By then applying artificial tactile sensations to a nerve in the amputee’s stump, the team are able to create the illusion that a part of their phantom limb was experiencing a sensation. At the same time, the index finger in the virtual prosthetic will glow in synchrony within the administered touch sensations to create the illusion that the phantom limb and the prosthetic one are the same limb.
The team at EPFL released a short video that showcased the research which you can view below. VRFocus will be sure to keep you up to date on any future updates from the team and their work so make sure to stay tuned for more.