A novel bionic hand developed by a multinational team of robotics experts has restored a woman's ability to 'feel' things and is portable enough to be used outside a laboratory.
For years, scientists have worked on robotic limbs to bring back amputees' ability to touch, hold and interact with objects. The goal has been to fill a major gap in their lives using technology. However, most of the focus has been on restoring the ability to cling on to objects rather than reviving the sense of touch – which is just as important.
Well, that has changed now. A group of researchers from Rome have unveiled the first bionic hand that restores the sense of touch and is compact enough to be worn outside a laboratory, according to a BBC report.
The robotic hand, which closely resembles a real hand, was given to a woman who had lost her left hand in an accident more than 20 years ago.
Almerina Mascarello used the prototype hand for about six months and was able to tell if an object was hard or soft. "The feeling is spontaneous as if it were your real hand; you're finally able to do things that before were difficult, like getting dressed, putting on shoes – all mundane but important things. You feel complete," she told the BBC.
The technology behind the robotic hand is quite neat. It combines a portable computer with sophisticated sensors to determine whether an object is hard or soft and translates that information into readable signals for the brain. Once that is done, the signals are relayed to the brain via tiny electrodes.
This hand builds upon a previous version, which did the same job but was too bulky to be carried anywhere outside the laboratory.
The revolutionary tech is doing wonders but will have to be scaled down even further before it can be released into the market, the team said. They hope is that, one day, robotic prosthesis would be better than real limbs.
Silvestro Micera, a neuroengineer at EPFL in Lausanne, told the BBC's Fergus Walsh, "We are going more and more in the direction of science fiction movies, like Luke Skywalker's bionic hand in Star Wars – a fully controlled, fully natural, sensorised prosthesis, identical to the human hand."