The key to allowing the hand to do this was a camera. The biomedical engineers at Newcastle University fitted their robotic hand with a 99p camera that automatically takes pictures of what’s in front of the hand. Neural networks, or artificial intelligence, packaged in with the hand recognize certain objects based on shape and size.
The recognition triggers 1 of 4 corresponding hand grips that the AI has learned: palm wrist neutral (think what your hand does when you pick up a cup); palm wrist pronated (such as grasping a TV remote); tripod (thumb and two fingers) and pinch (thumb and index finger).
Everything from seeing to recognizing to responding takes place within milliseconds – 10 times faster than the most advanced limbs presently on the market.
“The beauty of this system is that it’s much more flexible and the hand is able to pick up novel objects – which is crucial since in everyday life people effortlessly pick up a variety of objects that they have never seen before,”said Kianoush Nazarpour, a study co-author and a senior biomedical engineering lecturer at Newcastle University, in a news release.
The researchers think the new system has advantages over other advanced prosthetic hands, which requires users to see an object and then physically stimulate the muscles in order to trigger a prosthetic limb movement. Using myoelectric signals – muscle electrical activity recorded from the stump’s skin surface – requires practice and concentration
Limb prosthetic technology hasn’t changed much since World War II, or even the 19th century. But there have been major advances in recent years due to the necessity of treating Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans in the U.S. and U.K. One of the most notable is the DARPA-funded Luke arm, created by Dean Kamen’s DEKA research and development company. The Luke arm is now being commercialized by Mobius Bionics.
The Newcastle University researchers, funded by U.K.’s Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), have the goal of creating a bionic hand that can sense pressure and temperature, transmitting the information back to the brain. The hand that sees is an interim step for them.
“It’s a stepping stone towards our ultimate goal,” Nazarpour said. “But importantly, it’s cheap and it can be implemented soon because it doesn’t require new prosthetics – we can just adapt the ones we have.”
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