Bionic prosthetics help their wearers accomplish tasks that would otherwise be enormously challenging – from getting dressed to riding a bicycle. The downside, though, is that none of those prosthetics help people “feel” again—until now. Researchers at a Canadian university have developed a new type of bionic hand that lets users feel their fingertips, even when they don’t have any.

Researchers at Simon Fraser University have been working to develop a bionic hand controlled by the user’s mind, in keeping with the growing trend in medical technology. The new device is called M.A.S.S. Impact (Muscle Activity Sensor Strip), and is comprised of an armband filled with pressure sensors embedded in a socket that track movements in a user’s remaining muscles. Algorithms map those movements to predict the user’s intentions, and make the hand move accordingly.

Related: World’s first bionic hand with a sense of touch set to be transplanted

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Paralympic skier Danny Letain lost his left arm below the elbow following a workplace accident in 1980. He’s been working with SFU researchers to test the bionic hand. Letain says the new system helped him “feel his left index finger and little finger for the first time” since his accident. The parathlete will put the bionic hands through the paces at the inaugural Cybathlon event in Zurich in October 2016, a competition for people with disabilities who use robotic technology.

The hand can also learn a user’s habits and predict future movements. “The more data you give it, the more it will learn,” says SFU engineering science alumnus Lukas-Karim Merhi.


Images via Dale Northey for SFU