Prosthetic hand controlled through nerves has the lightest touch
26 November 2014
A prosthetic hand which connects to the nervous system provides a
sense of touch light enough to handle an egg. The hand has been developed by the EU-funded NEBIAS project after
10 years of research.
The researchers have created a new neural interface to link the patient’s nervous system
and brain with the
sensors embedded in the hand, enabling the user to control
complex hand and finger movements.
The hand was tested with the help of amputee Dennis Aabo Sørensen
who was able to grasp objects intuitively and identify what he was
touching, while blindfolded.
Mr Sørensen, whose hand was amputated ten years ago and has been
participating in the project’s experiments, said, "They gave me a
baseball to hold and for the first time in a decade I could feel I
was holding something round in my prosthetic hand."
Dennis Aabo Sørensen operates the prosthetic
To make it possible for Mr Sørensen to feel the shape of the
object he was holding, the researchers first had to develop a
selective, implantable neuro-interface. "Selective means, for
example, that when I’m talking to you in a crowd, I’m not talking to
a guy sitting close to you. In other words, the electrodes have an
interface with some areas of the nerves and not with others close
by," explains project coordinator Dr Silvestro Micera.
Micera and his team enhanced the artificial hand with sensors
that detect information about touch, which is sent in real time to
the patient, allowing for the natural control of the hand.
With the prototype passing its initial tests with flying colours,
the next stage is to identify two or three people to test the
prosthesis over some years, with all the elements being portable,
wearable or implanted. If that works, in five or six years from now
the final stage would be a large-scale clinical trial to establish
if the prosthesis can be used widely. Dr Micera firmly believes the
prosthesis will be available in ten years time.
Innovation through collaboration
This multi-disciplinary research brought together researchers
from materials, computer and neuro-sciences, biomedical
microtechnology and electronic engineering. Over these different EU
funded projects, scientists from 29 different institutions,
involving 7 EU countries (and USA) worked together to make a
prosthetic hand that can enable natural sensation and motion.
NEBIAS, also, was launched at the start of November 2013 and will
run for four years. It receives EUR 3.4 million from the European
Commission’s 7th Framework Programme .