Giving an artificial hand

US researchers are to develop a smart prosthetic hand that will use nerve signals to fully simulate natural grasping, lifting and twisting hand motions.


Researchers at Idaho State University  (ISU) are collaborating to develop a “smart” prosthetic hand that will use nerve signals to fully simulate natural grasping, lifting and twisting hand motions. They hope the artificial hand will also respond to sensory and visual feedback.


The US Army Medical Research and Material Command (USAMRMC) of the Department of Defense (DoD) funded the first phase of this three-phase project this summer, providing an $842,000 grant to ISU.


‘The existing commercial technology for arm and hand amputees hasn’t changed significantly in the past six decades,’ said Dr Subbaram Naidu, ISU professor of Electrical Engineering, the grant’s principal investigator.


‘The Department of Defense is embarking on a research program to fund prosthetic research to revolutionise upper-body prosthetics and to develop artificial arms that will feel, look and perform like a real human arm guided by the central nervous system.’


The ISU researchers will use skin sensors for “electromyographic” (EMG) signal extraction – recording the electrical activity in skeletal muscle. The scientists will then try to determine which EMG signals correspond to intended hand motions.


Next, they will try to develop an “intelligent” control for prosthetics using a variety of sophisticated computing techniques, including practices such as using neural networks, fuzzy logic, genetic algorithms and evolutionary computing.


Current prosthetics are made of materials that can cause inflammatory reactions to the limb they are attached to. So the ISU researchers will also explore how to create artificial hands and implants that can be made of materials that will cause fewer inflammatory reactions that plague current prosthetics.


The study is being funded by the US Department of Defense in an effort to rehabilitate military personnel – current high causality rates in the battlefield with a higher percentage of survival has produced a larger number of veterans with hand amputations.