In an astonishing display of the giant strides science and medicine have made, European researchers have developed a bionic hand that is sensitive to textures and shapes. Heretofore, artificial hands could not give the wearer any sensation of what he or she was feeling.
A month-long trial in Italy with the new prosthetic hand has researchers exhilarated. Lead author Silvestro Micera said, “For the first time we were able to restore real time sensory feeling in an amputee while he was controlling this sensorized hand.” Micera and Stanisa Raspopovic, and their fellow researchers from Switzerland’s École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne and the BioRobotics Institute in Pisa, Italy, were responsible for the study.
Dennis Aabo Sorenson, 36, was the man undergoing the trial. He hails from Denmark and had lost his left hand in a fireworks accident. He said, “When I held an object, I could feel if it was soft or hard, round or square… I could feel things that I hadn’t been able to feel in over nine years.”
Sorenson wore a mechanical hand with advanced sensors in each of the fingertips.
Electrodes implanted in his upper arm received electrical signals through wires from the sensors. He wore a blindfold and earplugs while he was tested and was able to discern the difference between a mandarin orange and a baseball, and the differences among soft tissue, a hard piece of wood, and a plastic cup.
Richard Frieden, assistant professor at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York, said, “This new advance seems to represent another step forward in creating a more precise man-machine interface.” He was joined by David Gow, director of rehabilitation engineering services and bioengineering at NHS Lothian in Scotland, who added, “This opens up exciting possibilities for artificial limb users.”
The team of researchers said a mass-market sensory prosthetic will take at least five years to develop.