The DARPA Initiative: SMU, DOD Partner Again, This Time on Prosthetics That Feel

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SMU and the Department of Defense are already partners on that paper-thin camera straight outta 1984 by way of Minority Report. Now the Hilltop sends word of its latest DOD partnership -- a $5.6-mil Neurophotonics Research Center that'll be run by Marc Christensen, electrical engineering chair in SMU's Lyle School of Engineering. Its charge: to develop prosthetic limbs using fiber optics that actually feel things like pressure and temperature. Says SMU: "Lightning-fast connections between robotic limbs and the human brain may be within reach for injured soldiers and other amputees."

The money comes from the DOD's research and development office called Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency -- or, natch, DARPA. Long story short: The DOD hopes SMU's peoples can create this fiber-optic link between brain and limb sooner than later; part of the DARPA initiative involves collapsed deadlines, since it's intended to assist soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. But if all goes according to plan, SMU's researchers will also use the DOD's dough to fashion "brain implants for the control of tremors, neuro-modulators for chronic pain management and implants for patients with spinal cord injuries." Texas Instruments and Lockheed Martin are among the partners on this endeavor.

Says Christensen in the university's official what-for: "Enhancing human performance with modern digital technologies is one of the great frontiers in engineering. Providing this kind of port to the nervous system will enable not only realistic prosthetic limbs, but also can be applied to treat spinal cord injuries and an array of neurological disorders."
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