Nathan Copeland was in a car accident that injured his spinal cord, leaving him with quadriplegia from the chest down. Unable to feel any sensation in his arms or fingers, he chose to participate in a groundbreaking experiment: a trial of a mind-controlled robotic arm directly connected to his brain.

UPMC neurosurgeons implanted four tiny microelectrode arrays into Nathan’s brain. Then, he was connected to the Brain Computer Interface (BCI), developed by researchers at the University of Pittsburgh. In a study published in Science Translational Medicine, a team of experts demonstrated for the first time ever in humans a technology that allowed Mr. Copeland to experie​nce the sensation of touch through a robotic arm that he controls with his brain.

“I can feel just about every finger—it’s a really weird sensation,” Mr. Copeland. “Sometimes it feels electrical and sometimes it’s pressure, but for the most part, I can tell most of the fingers with definite precision. It feels like my fingers are getting touched or pushed.”