Robotic LifeHand prosthetic provides sensory feedback for improved dexterity.
Hand amputees may soon have a prosthetic option that feels and functions like the real thing. At the 2013 Annual Meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), Dr. Silvestro Micera, of the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) in Switzerland, reported on the progress made to a bionic hand that provides bi-directional sensory interface with the human nerve impulses.
Dr. Micera’s smart prosthetic, called the LifeHand, connects directly to the nervous system using intraneural electrodes implanted into the median and ulnar nerves. According to the results of a recent clinical trial, the interface would not only allow patients to control the hand intuitively but also get sensory feedback from touch sensors in the LifeHand’s fingertips, palm and wrist.
Micera and colleagues tested their system by implanting intraneural electrodes into the nerves of an amputee. The electrodes stimulated the sensory peripheral system, delivering different types of touch feelings.
The researchers then analyzed the motor neural signals recorded from the nerves and showed that information related to grasping could be extracted. That information was then used to control a hand prosthesis placed near the subject but not physically attached to the arm of the amputee.
“We could be on the cusp of providing new and more effective clinical solutions to amputees in the next years,” says Micera, who is Head of the Translational Neural Engineering Laboratory at EPFL and Professor at the Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna in Italy.
Micera also also announced that the LifeHand will soon enter a new clinical trial that will connect the prosthetic hand directly to the patient for the first real-time, bidirectional control using peripheral neural signals. The researchers hope to find still further improvement in the sensory feedback and overall control of the prosthetics. If the results go well, Micera says the LifeHand could become generally available by 2015.