By Sean Jackson
In collaboration with several institutions, scientists at the University of Utah have created a prosthetic technology that allows its user to feel sensations again. Lead author Gregory Clark worked with Keven Walgamott, who lost his hand and part of his arm in an accident 15 years ago. According to the Mirror, using a prosthetic dubbed LUKE, “Walgamott plucked grapes without crushing them, peeled a banana and even sent texts. The estate agent could also pick up an egg without breaking it, hold his wife's hand and put on his wedding ring.” An integral part of the prosthetic’s design is the interface called the Utah Slant Electrode Array (USEA). Clark spoke to Gizmodo saying, “The USEA provides an interface between a prosthetic hand and the user’s remaining sensory and motor nerves in their arm; these nerves and the person’s own thoughts then help operate the device.”
According to Gizmodo, Walgamott was implanted with the USEA, which was connected to an advanced prosthetic arm developed by the company Deka and named LUKE in honor of the prosthesis that Luke Skywalker donned in the Star Wars series. Then over the course of 14 months, Walgamott traveled to the university to test out the arm in their lab. In experiments, Keven was able to report the size, texture, and type of different objects even while blindfolded and wearing headphones. He was able to 'feel' up to 119 perceptions ranging from pressure to vibration. He could identify and handle objects faster and more accurately than any other system of its kind.
In addition to this development, research out of the National University of Singapore has developed an electronic skin. The skin is called the Asynchronous Coded Electric Skin (ACES) and the NUS press release described how the electronic nervous system detects signals like the human sensor nervous system. Unlike the nerve bundles in the human skin, it is made up of a network of sensors connected via a single electrical conductor. It is also unlike existing electronic skins which have interlinked wiring systems that can make them sensitive to damage and difficult to scale up.
The NUS reported that ACES can detect touches more than 1,000 times faster than the human sensory nervous system. For example, it is capable of differentiating physical contact between different sensors in less than 60 nanoseconds — the fastest ever achieved for an electronic skin technology — even with large numbers of sensors. ACES-enabled skin can also accurately identify the shape, texture, and hardness of objects within 10 milliseconds, ten times faster than the blink of an eye. This is enabled by the high fidelity and capture speed of the ACES system.
A creative tech company engineered a DIY prosthetic nerf gun. Valentin Squirelo of Hackerloop used a combination of custom 3D-printed parts, naked electronics, some electromyography sensors to detect muscle movements, and a Nerf Swarmfire blaster. “You could think it’s not the first problem to solve for people with disabilities, but in fact being able to have fun with your friends with these wonderful toys is also a real game changer”, the Hackerloop team says.