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Experiment Adds Sense of Touch to Artificial Hand

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An amputee wearing a sensory feedback-enabled prosthesis holds an orange.

Researchers say they have developed a robot hand that will allow amputees to feel the differences of objects.

Credit: Patrizia Tocci/AP

Swiss and Italian researchers have developed a robotic hand that they say enables amputees to feel the differences between objects.

The research is part of a major effort to create more lifelike and usable prosthetics.

The researchers first implanted tiny electrodes inside the ulnar and median nerves, which would normally allow for certain sensations in the hand, in the stump of the patient's arm. When the researchers stimulated the nerves with a weak electrical signal, the patient said it felt like his missing fingers were moving, showing the nerves could still relay information. The researchers also put sensors on two fingers of a robotic hand to detect information about what the artificial fingers touched.

"It is really putting the brain back in control of the system," says Case Western Reserve University researcher Dustin Tyler, who was not involved with the European researchers but has been testing a similar prototype.

It will still take several years of additional research to create a first-generation artificial hand that can feel, and looks more like a traditional prosthetic, according to Swiss Federal Institute of Technology researcher Silvestro Micera.

From Associated Press
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