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The robot arm with tactile feedback on the left shows much smoother action. Credit: UPMC/Pitt Health Sciences Media Relations

New research shows that incorporating a sense of touch into robot arms controlled by the human brain vastly improves performance.

Why it matters: The work demonstrates the ability to transmit feeling is vital to making a better robotic prosthesis, providing hope to those who've lost the use of their limbs — and pointing the way to further progress on brain-computer interfaces (BCI).

How it works: Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh recruited Nathan Copeland, who had lost the ability to move and feel most of his body after a car accident in 2004.

  • Through a BCI, he was able to learn to move a robotic arm just by thinking about it. But with little sensation in his body, he could initially only control the arm while watching it move, which left the robotic arms clumsy.
  • In a study published in Science this week, however, researchers described what happened after they were able to engineer a way for his brain to process electrical stimulations from the arm as a sense of touch.

When a finger on the robotic arm would graze an object, Copeland would feel something similar in his finger.

  • "It just worked," Copeland told Wired. "The first time we did it, I was like, magically better somehow."
  • As the video above shows, once touch was more fully incorporated, Copeland was able to grasp and move objects much more quickly.

The catch: The system can't leave the lab, and it still requires a wired connection — a reminder that even the best BCI systems are a long way from being usable in the world.

Go deeper

3,000 unruly passenger reports made to FAA this year

Photo: Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Airlines have reported some 3,000 cases of unruly behavior by passengers to the Federal Aviation Administration this year — including 2,300 for refusing to comply with face mask mandates, the FAA announced Monday.

Why it matters: Passenger numbers remain below pre-pandemic levels. But the FAA is investigating the highest number of suspected federal law violations since it began recording unruly passenger incidents in 1995, per ABC News.

Cashier killed after face mask policy dispute in Georgia grocery store

An Atlanta area grocery store cashier was killed and three other people were injured in a shooting following a dispute over a face mask policy in the supermarket Monday, police said.

Driving the news: DeKalb County Sheriff Melody Maddox said during a news conference that the female cashier was working at the Big Bear Supermarket in Decatur when she was shot following a "confrontation" over the wearing of masks.

House panel to investigate Trump-era DOJ data seizures

Photo: James Devaney via Getty Images

The House Judiciary Committee will launch a formal probe into the Trump-era Justice Department's seizure of data from devices belonging to members of Congress, their aides, journalists and then-White House counsel, panel chair Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) announced Monday.

Why it matters: Though it's so far unclear if the cases are related, they raise "serious constitutional and separation of power concerns," Nadler said in a statement.