Robotic hand that feels

The first robotic hand that gives amputees a sense of touch has been developed by Swedish scientists.

The Smarthand contains 40 sensors that are activated when pressed against an object.

The sensors stimulate nerves in the arm which then activate the appropriate part of the patient’s brain, allowing them to “feel” objects they are holding.

The Swedish team believe the technology is a significant advance on previous robotic arms fitted to amputees.

So called ‘sensory feedback’ has always been the Holy Grail for scientists developing prosthetic limbs.

Robin af Ekenstam, the first amputee to try the robotic hand, said it was just like using a real one.

Robin afEkenstam tries out the Smarthand

Robin afEkenstam tries out the Smarthand

He said: “It’s a feeling I have not had in a long time.”

“When I grab something tightly I can feel it in the fingertips. It’s strange since I don’t have them any more! It’s amazing.”

The Smarthand uses a complex system that enables patients to perform hand functions with a more realistic human ‘touch’.

It has four motors, which move the thumb and fingers.

The motors are connected to nerves in the arm that move Mr af Ekenstam’s real digits.

He is able to pick up a plastic water bottle, without crushing it, and pour himself a drink – or even use a key to open the door.

Professor Goran Lundborg, a surgeon at Malmo University Hospital, said the artificial hand was a significant advance.

“If you find the right spot the correct areas of the brain cortex will be activated.

“If you put pressure on the index finger of the artificial hand then the index finger area of the brain will be activated,” he said.

It’s claimed the hand will also eliminate “phantom pains” that amputees and as a result improve their “quality of life”.

The research was funded by the European Commission and the scientists claim it means the perfect artificial hand is no longer a “fantasy”.

The Smarthand integrates recent advances in nanobioscience, cognitive neuroscience and information technologies to develop a robotic prosthetic hand with all basic features displayed by a real one.

The researchers claims it differs in focus and concept to other recent projects such as the Artificial Hand, CyberHand and Freehand.

(Thanks to Steve McNeice for sending this article)

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