Researchers from the University of Illinois were able to develop a prosthetic arm with better sensory feedback.
For years, creating prosthetics with robust sensory feedback has been a great challenge to scientists. However, a team of researchers from the University of Illinois was able to improve the sensory feedback of a prosthesis using a control algorithm that manages the electric current.
The team developed an algorithm which can reportedly control the current flowing within the prosthesis. The University of Illinois researchers developed the control algorithm to regulate the current so that a prosthetic user feels steady sensation even when the electrodes begin to peel off or when sweat builds up.
“We’re giving sensation back to someone who’s lost their hand. The idea is that we no longer want the prosthetic hand to feel like a tool, we want it to feel like an extension of the body,” explained, Aadeel Akhtar, a Ph.D. student in the neuroscience program and the medical scholars’ program of the University of Illinois and the lead author of the paper.
“Commercial prosthetics don’t have good sensory feedback. This is a step toward getting reliable sensory feedback to users of prosthetics.”
To date, most prosthetic arms with nerve stimulation features often have sensors in the fingertips. These sensors give out electrical signals equal to the amount of pressure the arm exerts whenever they come in contact with something.
However, these prosthetics usually have trouble sending reliable feedback due to some issues. For instance, electrical current tends to give users painful shocks whenever the electrodes connected to the skin peels off.
“A steady, reliable sensory experience could significantly improve a prosthetic user’s quality of life,” Timothy Bretl, an aerospace engineering professor and the principal investigator of the study, said.
In the study, the team’s controller would monitor the feedback the user receives and adjust its current level so that the feedback remains steady. According to the study, the controller will work even when the patient is sweating or the electrodes are 75% peeled off.
The team’s current goal is to create a prosthetic hand that will become an extension of the body instead of just being another tool.