Olaf Blanke

From bionic limbs and surrogate bodies to digital selves and out-of-body experiences: Neuroscience, robotics & virtual reality

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Modern robotic and haptic technology in the form of surgical robotics, prosthetics and rehabilitation robotics has been widely applied for the improvement of surgical procedures, the training of new abilities, and the restoration of lost sensorimotor functions. Unprecedented advances have also been made in neuroscience and especially our understanding of the human brain. This work discovered the dedicated structure and functions of the human brain, including the neural processes and networks that encode how our brain represents our body and how these brain mechanisms enable human consciousness and the self. I will first present our recent work in psychology, neuroscience, and digital technologies (virtual reality) that has linked consciousness and the self to the processing of bodily signals by specific neural processes. Next, I will show how these scientific insights, if linked with engineering expertise in robotics and virtual reality can be applied to the design of powerful bionic limbs, aviation robotics and medicine. I will conclude by sketching the future of the full integration of digital technologies with neuroscience and robotics in order to develop what I propose to call experience engineering of body and self.