Bionic Fingertip Allows Amputee to Feel Textures

Wednesday, 09 March 2016 - 5:47PM
Neuroscience
Medical Tech
Wednesday, 09 March 2016 - 5:47PM
Bionic Fingertip Allows Amputee to Feel Textures
Have scientists just created the real-life equivalent of Luke Skywalker's bionic hand (or at least his fingertip)? A new study, published today in eLife, shows that a new mechanical fingertip allows amputees to feel textures, almost exactly like a non-amputee.



For the study, researchers in Denmark worked with amputee Dennis Aabo Sørensen in order to build an artificial limb that allowed for real sensations. After his left hand was amputated several years ago, Sørensen was already outfitted with a prosthetic hand that could discern certain characteristics, such as shape and hardness, but now the scientists have added a special fingertip that can distinguish between more subtle characteristics, like roughness and smoothness. 

In order to accomplish this feat, the researchers attached a bionic fingertip to electrodes, which were then implanted into the nerves in Sørensen's upper arm. When the fingertip touches a smooth or rough material, sensors in the prosthetic send electrical signals through the electrodes to the nerves in the arm, just as a real hand would. 

Opening quote
"The stimulation felt almost like what I would feel with my hand," Sørensen said in a statement. "I still feel my missing hand, it is always clenched in a fist. I felt the texture sensations at the tip of the index finger of my phantom hand."
Closing quote


Bionic Fingertip

The signals were slower than they would be naturally--Sørensen was able to distinguish between smooth and rough texture 96% of the time, but 15 minutes after the signals were sent from the prosthetic. But still, this is a huge accomplishment, as it marks the first time an amputee has perceived texture with a bionic limb. And when Sørensen's brainwaves were measured while touching the materials, they were found to be analogous to the brainwaves of non-amputees using their real fingers.

Opening quote
"This study merges fundamental sciences and applied engineering: it provides additional evidence that research in neuroprosthetics can contribute to the neuroscience debate, specifically about the neuronal mechanisms of the human sense of touch," says Calogero Oddo of the BioRobotics Institute of Scuola Superiore Sant'Anna. "It will also be translated to other applications such as artificial touch in robotics for surgery, rescue, and manufacturing."
Closing quote
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