New prosthetic arm offers users the ability to feel what they touch

'Cuff electrodes' connect the prosthetic hand  to the amputee's nerves

James Vincent
Friday 06 December 2013 17:31
Comments

A new form of prosthetic interface has been developed raising the possibility that future amputees might not only have their mobility restored, but also their sense of touch.

Although advances in prosthetic arms are creating increasingly dexterous limbs (and this is arms rather than legs - the latter are far simpler beasts, mechanically speaking) the ability to convey sensory input has been far less developed.

Now, researchers from the Cleveland Veterans Affairs Medical Center and Case Western Reserve University have developed a new electronic ‘cuff electrode’ that is implanted into a patient to convey a range of sensations from 20 spots located on a prosthetic hand.

The video below shows the technology in action, fitted to 48-year-old Igor Spetic of Madison, Ohio, and one of the two patients to have been fitted with the interface so far. The implant is attached to three nerve bundles in the arm – the radial, median and ulnar, with each held by seven-millimetre ‘cuffs’.

Once the cuffs have been connected to the right nerves, Spetic reported feeling like the back of his hand and fingers were being touched, when the corresponding locations on the prosthetic hand came into contact with something.

The technology differs from previous nerve interfaces as it stimulates the axon – the protective sheath that surrounds the nerve fibres – rather than penetrating this layer of living cells. Whilst this offers a lower ‘resolution’ of touch, it means the interfaces work for longer – up to 18 months as opposed to a few weeks.

Spetic told the MIT Technology Review, who reported on the technology, that “It’s real exciting to see what they are doing, and I hope it can help other people. I know that science takes a long time. If I don’t get something to take home, but the next person does, it’s all to the better.”

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

By clicking ‘Create my account’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in