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Today’s standard prosthetic arms have a primitive hook that just opens and closes. Poor motor control coupled with a lack of sensation lead many people with limb loss to abandon their prostheses. A team of researchers is using sensory feedback to create a more dexterous bionic hand.
The group recently described the prototype LUKE arm—named after Luke Skywalker from Star Wars—in Science Robotics. They tested the device with a patient with a partial amputation below the left elbow. Sensors on the artificial hand communicated with an electrode array and electromyographic recording leads implanted in the patient’s residual nerves and muscles of the amputated arm.
Electrode array stimulation of residual nerves evoked 119 sensations, which the patient described as vibration, pressure, or tapping, among others. With the system’s closed-loop sensory feedback enabled, his grip precision, object discrimination, and ability to move objects without breaking them all improved. Finally, an algorithm developed to make artificial sensory signals mimic natural ones increased how quickly he could discriminate between soft or hard objects.
The patient, who lost his limb 14 years ago, also performed everyday activities with the prosthesis, including picking grapes, putting a pillowcase on a pillow, and shaking his wife’s hand. He also reported less phantom limb pain and felt that the prosthetic arm was more a part of his body.
The researchers now plan to test a portable, take-home version of the system with more participants, according to the study’s lead author, Jacob George, a graduate research fellow at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City.
Abbasi J. Better Sensation and Dexterity for Artificial Hands. JAMA. 2019;322(10):918. doi:10.1001/jama.2019.13202
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