Bionic fingertip allows amputee to ‘feel’ textures

Bionic fingertip allows amputee to ‘feel’ textures


EPFL / Hillary Sanctuary


A new bionic fingertip has allowed an amputee to feel rough and smooth textures in real-time.

The artificial fingertip — developed by scientists at École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), Switzerland, and Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna, Italy — was connected to the nerves in the upper arm of amputee Dennis Aabo Sørensen.

The device gives Sørensen the ability to distinguish between rough and smooth surfaces with 96 percent accuracy, the study reported. “The stimulation felt almost like what I would feel with my hand,” Sørensen said.

To achieve this, nerves in the amputee’s arm were connected to the artificial fingertip, and a machine controlled the movement of the device as it ‘felt’ textured plastic. As the fingertip moved across the plastic the sensors generated an electrical signal that was “translated into a series of electrical spikes” to imitate the nervous system, before it was delivered to Sørensen’s nerves.

The team behind the study say they compared the results of the bionic finger to those of non-amputees. “The tactile information was delivered through fine needles that were temporarily attached to the arm’s median nerve through the skin,” they wrote in a press release. “The non-amputees were able to distinguish roughness in textures 77 percent of the time.”


École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL)


The research is the latest in a growing cannon of global work that involves improved the functionality of artificial limbs. This work involves prosthetics that operate with brain-machine interfaces.

In February, a separate mind-controlled limb allowed a person to wiggle individual fingers of a bionic hand for the first time; researchers at Johns Hopkins University tested the prosthetic on a non-amputee, but they already had 128 electrodes surgically implanted in their brain to help monitor epilepsy. Using the pre-developed system the researcher mapped the subject’s brain and took control of their arm.

Separately, BrainGate, a company creating brain-machine interfaces has developed a chip that can be inserted into the brain to control a robotic arm. The work from BrainGate has allowed its users to be able to move the arm, for example, to raise a glass to their mouth.





École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL)


To encourage the research of bionic limbs, and brain controlled devices, October will also see the first ‘Cybathlon,’ a Swiss-hosted Oylmpics for bionic athletes and their robotic technologies.

Calogero Oddo, who worked on the project, said allowing an amputee to be able to differentiate between textures will be used across different industries. “It will also be translated to other applications such as artificial touch in robotics for surgery, rescue, and manufacturing,” he said.

Previous work from EPFL has seen Sørensen be able to feel sensory information using an entire artificial hand. The work, conducted in 2014, allowed him to grasp objects and be able to identify what he was touching while blindfolded.



March 8, 2016 / by / in , , , , , , , , ,

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