Revolutionary Bionic Hand Gives Amputees Realistic Sensory Feedback
In the race to create humanoid robots, one of the most challenging aspects has been the development of realistic “covering” for the robots. Human skin is incredibly complex, functioning as a real organ by detecting temperature, pressure, and consistency, and even possessing self-repair abilities. However, researchers from the Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna in Pisa and the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne have made a groundbreaking leap in this area, introducing a new sensorized hand prosthesis capable of providing realistic, real-time thermal feedback.
The innovative hand prosthesis is designed to sense temperature differences and restore some sensitivity to people who have suffered an amputation. The sensors on the prosthetic hand are connected to a system that thermally stimulates the surface of the stump, which in turn is perceived by the nervous system and transmitted to the brain. This breakthrough not only offers hope to amputees in restoring the sensation of touching objects and people but also holds promise for addressing the “phantom limb” syndrome that plagues many amputee patients.
In a groundbreaking test, the prototype was tested on Fabrizio, a 57-year-old man with a transradial amputation, who was able to manually distinguish and sort objects at different temperatures and perceive body contact with other human beings. Fabrizio expressed his amazement and strong emotion at feeling the warmth of another person with his “ghost” hand using the sensor.
The senior author of the research, Silvestro Micera, comments on the significance of this breakthrough, stating that “temperature is one of the last frontiers for restoring sensitivity to robotic hands,” and the new device brings researchers closer to restoring the full range of sensations to amputees.
This new technology, named MiniTouch, utilizes consumer electronics and requires no surgery, making it an accessible and revolutionary advancement in the field of prosthetics. The ability to perceive temperature is a game-changer in the realm of neuroprosthetic research, with the potential to greatly improve the wellbeing and quality of life for amputees.
The research team has tested the device’s accuracy, and the results are promising. The patient was able to accurately discriminate between objects of different temperatures and materials, showing a significant improvement in his ability to classify different sensations. The ultimate goal is to develop a multimodal system that integrates touch, perception, and temperature, allowing amputees to fully utilize their robotic hands and perceive a wide range of sensations.
The next steps for the technology involve making the device ready for home use and integrating thermal information from multiple points of an amputee’s phantom limb. These advancements are paving the way for more natural hand prostheses that offer a complete range of sensations, providing amputees with a richer and more natural perception of their surroundings. This breakthrough marks a significant step forward in the quest to restore a full range of sensations to amputees and offers hope for a future where bionic interfaces closely mimic natural limbs.