Prosthetic hand gives amputee a sense of touch

Researchers around the world are working to create more lifelike prosthetic hands and other limbs for amputees. Prosthetic hands have been around for years in multiple forms, typically nothing more than a plastic hand or hook that gives the user rudimentary functionality if any at all.

A team of researchers has created a new artificial hand that gives amputees a sense of touch. The team allowed the amputee to use the artificial hand for a week during tests and the user was able to feel different objects. During the experiment, the user was able to tell if items like a bottle, baseball, cotton, or an orange were hard or soft, slim or round, and adjust his grasp to suit the item intuitively.

There are still years of work to go before the artificial hand becomes a reality. The researchers created a type of loop that allowed the robotic hand to communicate with the user's brain so the user could feel and react in real time. The experiment required doctors to insert tiny electrodes inside two nerves inside the patient.

The nerves were the ulnar and median nerves in the stump of the users arm. Those nerves normally allow for sensation in the hand. When the nerves in the users stump were hit with a weak electrical signal, the user could feel fingers moving, proving nerves could still send information to the brain. Those sensors were then connected to the robotic hand for the tests. The user says he could tell if an item in the robotic hand was hard or soft. More research is needed in the future; specifically research on if the nerve implants can last is required.

SOURCE: Washington Post