Rolling Without Limits

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New Hope for People With Amputated Limbs as UK Bioengineers Invent “Hand That Sees”
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New Hope for People With Amputated Limbs as UK Bioengineers Invent “Hand That Sees”

A team of medical engineers from Newcastle University in Britain has made a ground-shaking new invention: a prosthetic hand that sees.

The bionic hand is able to automatically reach out and grasp objects in its view. It responds up to 10 times faster than prosthetics currently in use. It has an inbuilt camera that instantaneously takes a photo of an object in front of its “eye”, assesses both its shape and size before triggering a series of motions in the hand.

The entire process bypasses -- or rather avoids -- the normal processes in current prosthetics which require a user to see an object first, then physically stimulate their arm muscles in order to be able to cause a subsequent movement in their prosthetic hand. The new “seeing hand” does all these things in a single fluid move that doesn’t have to involve its user’s thinking.

Current prosthetic limbs are controlled using myoelectric signals, i.e. electrical impulses in the muscles that are recorded and analyzed from the skin surface of the amputated limb’s stump. Controlling these artificial hands, therefore, takes a lot of practice, concentration and -- very crucially -- time.

So far, only a few amputees have put the new technology to trial. To further test the market viability of their new invention, the biomedical team from Newcastle University is collaborating with Newcastle-upon-Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and Freeman Hospital to bring forth more patients for the trial phases.

Co-author of the research study and Senior Lecturer in Biomedical Engineering at Newcastle University, Dr. Kianoush Nazarpour, describes their new invention as “an intuitive hand that can react without thinking.”

According to statistics, there are up to 600 new upper-limb amputees each year in the UK alone, with 50% of them being between 15 and 54 years old. In comparison, the US records over 500,000 upper-limb amputees per year.

With the speed of responsiveness having been one of the main limitations of artificial limbs, the new technology is expected to revolutionize this medical field and make life “more normal” for many people with amputated limbs.

The study was funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), with its findings being published in the latest edition of the medical publication, Journal of Neural Engineering.

Image Credit: Image courtesy of Newcastle University

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