New Bionic Hand Capable Of Feeling
February 18, 2013

New Bionic Prosthetic Hand Gives Users Sense Of Touch

Michael Harper for — Your Universe Online

Those who have lost a limb such as a hand have long had the option of using a prosthetic to restore some lost functionality. Though these prosthetics can be beneficial to these patients, studies have shown that as many as 50 percent of prosthetic wearers rarely use them due to appearance and poor controllability. For all the good these prosthetics are capable of, nothing can replace the fact that these patients have lost a part of their body and are no longer able to feel anything with their synthetic appendage.

However, a new breakthrough in prosthesis has delivered a bionic hand that is capable of feeling just like the organic limb it replaces. The first such hand is set to be given to an unnamed man in his 20s living in Rome, according to The Independent.

Developed by Silvestro Micera of the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) in Switzerland, this new bionic hand could be the first step towards a world in which prosthetics deliver realistic sensory feedback to the brain via the nervous system.

In a lecture given at the 2013 American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in Boston, Micera explained how this new technique worked, giving the results of a recent four-week long trial which gave amputee patients improved sensory feedback through their prosthetics. This new method is said to allow for signals to rush back and forth between the prosthetic and the nerves, creating sensations which are more realistic and are delivered much more quickly than previous methods.

“We could be on the cusp of providing new and more effective clinical solutions to amputees in the next years,” said Micera in a statement.

“This is real progress, real hope for amputees. It will be the first prosthetic that will provide real-time sensory feedback for grasping. It is clear that the more sensory feeling an amputee has, the more likely you will get full acceptance of that limb,” said Micera, speaking at the AAAS conference in Boston.

Micera´s new method works by clipping electrodes directly to two main nerves in the arm. These electrodes are then responsible for facilitating communication between the hand and the nervous system.

Earlier attempts at creating a bionic hand have been attached to patients who are able to bend the fingers and grasp things just as they would with an organic hand. These hands are also capable of sensing touch, but only on the palm or wrist. Micera´s new bionic hand will be able to deliver the sense of touch from all over the hand — the palm, wrist and, most importantly, the finger tips. With more touch-sensing areas on the hand, the patient will ultimately feel almost as if they still have the use of their original hand.

“The idea would be that it could deliver two or more sensations. You could have a pinch and receive information from three fingers, or feel movement in the hand and wrist,” said Micera.

“We have refined the interface [connecting the hand to the patient], so we hope to see much more detailed movement and control of the hand.”

The unnamed recipient of the first hand will be asked to wear the prosthesis for a month as a trial. If all goes well, Micera and team hope to have a full working model ready for testing within the next two years.