An anonymous man in his 20s who lives in Rome will soon receive a new hand, and for the first time in the world his bionic hand will be able to feel the things that it touches. The hand will be wired to the man’s nervous system, in hopes that he will be able to control its movements by receiving signals from his skin cells, and that he in turn will be able to receive signals from the hand’s touch sensors. The hand promises to restore the sense of touch to people who have lost limbs, and it represents a major breakthrough in the world of prosthetics.
Studies have shown that as many as half of hand amputees don’t regularly use their prosthetic hands because of “less than ideal functionality, appearance, and controllability.” This new bionic hand hopes to change that. The hand was developed by Silvestro Micera, of the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) in Switzerland, who recently conducted a four-week clinical trial for the hand.
Because the hand is attached directly to the nervous system, its wearer will be able to directly control it, making it feel more like a real hand than a prosthetic. The latest model will be attached directly to the user’s arm, and sensors in the fingertips and thumb will relay messages to the brain. “It is clear that the more sensory feeling an amputee has, the more likely they will get full acceptance of that limb,” Micera told the Daily Mail. “We hope that one day it will be embedded in the arm and the user will just forget it is there.”