Prosthetic limbs have gotten more lifelike — and also more useful — recently. But how do you let people feel what they're touching? Recently, scientists have developed a number of supersensitive artificial skins, but the goal of restoring sensation has remained elusive. That is, until now.
The sense of touch is incredibly important — not only does it allow us to manipulate objects, it's also a vital part of emotional communication and it gives us a sense of embodiment. Naturally, to restore the sense of touch to those who've lost it, you'd have to electrically stimulate specific portions of the primary somatosensory cortex, which is the main sensory area of the brain that deals with touch sensations.
"Over the last 15 or so years, the idea of doing this has been floating out there," said Sliman Bensmaia, who runs a somatosensory research lab at the University of Chicago.