Researchers Unveil Advanced Prosthetic Capable Of Mimicking Sense Of Touch


Researchers working at both the Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne, in Switzerland, and the Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna, in Italy, have published a new paper in eLife describing a new approach to designing prosthetics that would allow users to experience a digitally recreated sense of touch. The goal of the project was to create a sensor that could be integrated with existing healthy neurological systems to deliver a functional sense of touch for users. To accomplish this, the team developed an artificial fingertip, electrode array, and procedure for surgically integrating the device into a patient’s remaining healthy nervous system.

Researchers tested the new sensor by implanting the prosthetic fingertip on an amputee and then running a series of tests to measure the level of detail that could be discerned with the prosthetic, compared to a healthy fingertip. The test subjects were then asked to run the artificial finger over various surfaces and identify what they felt. Participants did well in this test, reporting that they were able to identify objects and even differentiate between various textures. Researchers are reporting having achieved a similar level of sensitivity with their new design as a healthy human finger does. “The touch sensation is quite close to what you would feel with your normal finger,” reports amputee and test subject Dennis Aavo Sorenson. During the test, Sorensen was able to correctly identify various textures with a 96 percent accuracy.

Next, the team connected Sorensen to an EEG device and compared his brain activity to a non-amputee taking the same test. The EEG showed that the same area of the brain was being activated when textures were being identified, suggesting that the device was accurately routing digital signals through the nervous system as was hoped. The team also tested various electrode arrays that were designed not for a lab environment, but that could feasibly be surgically implanted in a patient for years, to ensure that the stability of the design would hold up over time.

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