Woman receives bionic hand with sense of touch

Jan. 4, 2018

Scientists in Rome have unveiled the first bionic hand with a sense of touch that can be worn outside a laboratory.

The recipient, Almerina Mascarello, who lost her left hand in an accident nearly a quarter of a century ago, said “it’s almost like it’s back again”.

In 2014 the same international team produced the world’s first feeling bionic hand. But the sensory and computer equipment it was linked to was too large to leave the laboratory. Now the technology is small enough to fit in a rucksack, making it portable.

The development team included engineers, neuroscientists, surgeons, electronics, and robotics specialists from Italy, Switzerland, and Germany.

The prosthetic hand has sensors that detect information about whether an object is soft or hard. These messages are linked to a computer in a rucksack that converts these signals into a language the brain will understand. The information is relayed to Almerina’s brain via tiny electrodes implanted in nerves in the upper arm.

In tests Almerina—who was blindfolded—was able to tell whether the object she was picking up was hard or soft.

This represents another advance in neuroprosthetics, the interface between machine and the human body. A robotic prosthesis better than the human hand is still a long way off, but the team believe it might eventually be a reality.

The researchers paid tribute to Almerina and the other amputees who joined the project. Almerina was able to keep the bionic hand for six months, but it has now been removed, as it is still a prototype.

The scientific team says they hope to miniaturize the technology even further so that a sensory bionic hand can be commercialized.

BBC News has the full article

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