In recent years, a plethora of bionic hands have emerged for amputees. However, surveys of those using such artificial hands have revealed that up to 50 percent of amputees do not use theprosthesis regularly, due to poor functionality, appearance and controllability.
So, to improve the amount of dexterity and sensation of these bionic hands, scientists reasoned they could use interfaces that link the hands with the nervous system, potentially enabling intuitive control and realistic sensory feedback.
"Our dream is to have Luke Skywalker getting back his hand with normal function," researcher Silvestro Micera told TechNewsDaily, referencing the hero in "Star Wars" who gets an artificial hand after his real one is cut off.
Micera is the head of the translational neural engineering lab at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne, Switzerland, which is one of the collaborators helping to develop the new bionic hand.
In a four-week clinical trial, Micera and his colleagues found they could improve the sensory feedback an amputee received from bionics by using electrodes implanted into the median and ulnar nerves in the arm near the stump. This helped deliver feelings of touch.
In addition, the researchers analyzed motor neural activity from the nerves, signals used to help control muscles. They found they could tease out signals related to grasping to help control a prosthetic hand placed near the amputee but not physically attached to the person's arm. In other words, it may be possible to develop an artificial hand that can transmit signals to and respond to data from the brain. "We could be on the cusp of providing new and more effective clinical solutions to amputees in the next years," Micera said.