New Prosthetic hand can 'feel' touch, could be a boon for the disabled

EPFL

Holy copper-plated codfish, Batman! We're one step closer to being able to ditch the quest for eternal youth and just replace body parts with bigger, better prosthetics. Bionic appendages have been around for a while now, but this new prototype looks like it will let the user "feel" things again.

According to Independent UK, an unnamed Roman gentleman, who is currently missing the lower part of his arm, will soon be the recipient of a new bionic hand (PDF link).

While such robotic appendages are not unknown, this one's a little more special than most: It's designed to give actual sensory feedback. To be fair, this isn't completely new, as The Independent notes: In 2009, Pierpaolo Petruzziello became the recipient of an earlier version of this invention. However, unlike the one that Petruzziello received, the latest prototype will apparently be able to relay sensory signals from the fingertips, the palm, and the wrist instead of only two sensory zones.

Sweet.

At the 2013 Annual Meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in Boston, Dr. Silvestro Micera reported on how he and his colleagues had tested the system by implanting said electrodes into the nerves—the median and the ulnar nerves, to be exact—of an amputee. The electrodes apparently could stimulate the sensory peripheral system, thereafter delivering different types of touch feelings.

More interestingly, the motor neural signals recorded proved that information related to grasping could be extracted, something that allowed the amputee to control a hand prosthesis.

A new clinical trial involving the connection of said prosthetic hand to patients for real-time, bidirectional control is set to occur sometime soon. When it happens, we'll let you know if our real-world Luke Skywalker will be able to tell when bacon grease splatters on his prosthetic.

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