Prosthetics have been around for decades and have helped millions of amputees. However, prosthetics still have some limitations in terms of control and genuine limb functional resemblance. University of Michigan researchers have come up with an amazing innovation in mind-controlled prosthetics for amputees. Researchers have detected feeble nerve signals from the hands of amputees which could be used to amplify the signals to control a prosthetic. The control over the prosthetic would be spontaneous, real-time, instinctive, and refined to the levels of fingers.
The researchers accomplished this feat by developing a method to individualize nerve fiber endings, separating the larger bundles of the nerve into smaller fibers. Smaller nerve fibers had the capacity to send the required signal strength in a more precise manner that allowed refined prosthetic control after amplification of the signal. Using small muscle grafts and specialized algorithms, they were able to amplify the nerve signals in a level that could control the prosthetic to resemble real-time hand control.
Paul Cederna, Professor of Plastic Surgery at the U-M Medical School said, “This is the biggest advance in motor control for people with amputations in many years. We have developed a technique to provide individual finger control of prosthetic devices using the nerves in a patient’s residual limb. With it, we have been able to provide some of the most advanced prosthetic control that the world has seen.”
Cederna is the co-leader of the research along with Cindy Chestek, who is the associate professor of biomedical engineering at the U-M College of Engineering. They recently conducted a study on four subjects regarding their use of the Mobius Bionics LUKE arm, a nerve-controlled prosthetic.
Success with Mind-controlled Prosthetic
The difference between their innovative prosthetic and the other robotic prosthetics is their split-second control with thought. Extremely life-like and regulated by thought processes, the prosthetic is a high-quality replica of an actual hand. The prosthetic worked flawlessly in the first trial without a learning curve. No specialized training or instructions were required as all the training portion was done by the algorithms designed by the researchers.
As the study is still in its early phases, the participants were only allowed to use the prosthetics in a controlled lab environment. Within the lab, all four participants were able to use their prosthetics in the first try to lift objects and rotate their thumbs in any direction continuously. Participants also successfully played the modified version of Rock, Paper, Scissors, renamed as Rock, Paper, Pliers.
One of the four participants Joe Hamiltan said “It’s like you have a hand again. You can pretty much do anything you can do with a real hand with that hand. It brings you back to a sense of normalcy.”Hamilton lost his arm in a fireworks accident 7 years ago.
Commercialization and widespread application of the mind-controlled prosthetic may take months as the researchers refine the algorithms and get FDA approval.