DARPA to award UF up to $5.4 million for neuroprosthetics research 

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — A group of U.S. military veteran and civilian volunteers with upper limb amputations will soon have the chance to test neural implants designed to offer more intuitive control of their prosthetics, thanks to a research collaboration between the University of Florida and DARPA. 

Hand Proprioception & Touch Interfaces (HAPTIX) is a program of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). The aim of the program is to develop an implantable neural interface that can restore closed-loop sensory motor control of dexterous mechatronic prostheses, ultimately offering amputees a prosthetic limb system that feels and functions like a natural limb.

UF’s proposal for the HAPTIX project, named the Implantable Multimodal Peripheral Recording and Stimulation System, or “IMPRESS,” has been awarded $2.7 million for the next 18 months, with a potential for a total award of $5.4 million over 30 months. 

“IMPRESS aims to create new peripheral nerve interfaces with far greater channel count, electrode density, and information stability than exist today, enabling effective bidirectional control of dexterous hand prosthesis in real-time,” said Rizwan Bashirullah, a professor of electrical engineering at UF and project lead of IMPRESS. “In other words, we hope to develop new neural interface technology so that patients can experience a prosthetic limb as close to natural as a real limb.”

Bashirullah has assembled a multidisciplinary team composed of an international leader in upper extremity rehabilitation from Germany, one of the top research organizations in advanced microfabrication (IMEC, Belgium), and a team of UF’s neuroengineers – including electrical engineering professors Jose Principe and Jack Judy, and biomedical engineering professor Aysegul Gunduz. The UF team works on the cutting edge of neural-interface algorithm development and system design.

“This research will directly impact the quality of life for a number of our veterans,” said Cammy Abernathy, dean of UF College of Engineering, “and in doing so, we will further develop our faculty’s already outstanding work in neuroprosthetics. This kind of research exemplifies how UF works for the ‘Gator Good.’”

While U.S. soldier fatalities have dropped in recent years, the prevalence of powerful explosives on the battlefield has resulted in a large number of veterans suffering from upper limb amputations. Advances have been made in the development of dexterous mechatronic prostheses, yet without the type of naturalistic controls that are being developed by the HAPTIX program, the learning curve for these prostheses is lengthy, un-intuitive, has a high cognitive load, and offers limited performance, responsiveness and sense of embodiment.

“The University of Florida has tremendous resources in the areas of neuroscience and neuroengineering,” said David Norton, vice president for research at UF, “in part because our interdisciplinary departments – including the College of Engineering, the College of Medicine and the McKnight Brain Institute – all work so seamlessly together. This is a wonderful opportunity to use our strengths to help those who have served our country.” 

Contact: Rizwan Bashirullah, 352-392-0622; rizwan@tec.ufl.edu