In a recent breakthrough reported in the journal Med, a prosthetic hand with advanced sensors has been developed, restoring realistic and real-time thermal feedback to the user. This study, conducted on a 57-year-old man from Italy who lost his hand 37 years ago, demonstrated that these sensors allowed him to experience a natural temperature sensation and differentiate between objects of different temperatures. The device, aptly named 'MiniTouch,' uses off-the-shelf electronics and does not require any surgical intervention to restore temperature sensation to patients.
MiniTouch: Changing the Game for Amputees
Researchers believe that the inclusion of temperature sensation in prosthetic hands is a considerable leap towards restoring the full palette of sensations to amputees. The prosthetic hand, according to the co-senior authors of the study, needs sensory feedback to perform as well as a real one. Therefore, their ambition is to create a multimodal system that integrates touch, proprioception, and temperature sensations. The 'MiniTouch' device is an innovative step in that direction.
In tests, the man was able to accurately identify cold, cool, and hot objects, and differentiate between different materials. The device also improved his ability to discern whether he was touching an artificial or a human arm. The researchers plan to add more temperature-sensitive locations on the prosthetic hand and to develop a prosthesis that combines the ability to sense touch as well as temperature.
Realistic and Real-Time Feedback
The 'MiniTouch' prosthetic hand can sense the temperature of objects, providing realistic and real-time thermal feedback to the wearer. The user was able to discriminate between objects of different temperatures with perfect accuracy and could also differentiate between human and prosthetic arms while blindfolded.
Revolutionizing the World of Prosthetics
New technology enables prosthetic limbs to feel temperature even in limbs that are no longer part of the body. The introduction of fingertip sensors allows a regular prosthetic hand to sense and respond to temperature just as a living hand does. The MiniTouch, created with affordable off-the-shelf electronics, requires no surgery and can be fitted to existing commercial prosthetic hands in a matter of hours.
Enabling a Richer Perception of the Tactile World
Researchers say the 'MiniTouch' paves the way for more natural hand prostheses that restore a full range of sensations, providing amputees with a richer and more natural perception of the tactile world. The device allowed the user to distinguish and manually sort objects of different temperatures and sense bodily contact with other humans. The 'MiniTouch' device transmitted thermal information from the fingertip of the prosthetic hand to a point on the amputee's residual arm, producing the perception of thermal sensations in his phantom index finger. This development significantly improved his ability to distinguish between different temperature objects and the difference between human and prosthetic arms while blindfolded.