Engineering at its heart is about using science to seek solutions in a creative fashion to problems bedeviling mankind. I couldn’t agree more with the words of her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II mores so with the advancement made on the portable bionic hand that can distinguish objects based on the surface textures.
Almerina Mascarello became the first recipient of the portable bionic hand. However, the joy was short-lived as she was only allowed to have it for six months as it is still in the pilot phase. Mascarello lost her arm while working in a steel factory 25 years back. Nevertheless, all is not lost as scientists plan to have the portable hand commercialized for amputees to access them once the finer development details have been refined.
A Remarkable Journey
Scientists have been working round the clock to develop a portable bionic hand that assimilates the function of the human hand with little success. The closest that they have come was the world’s first sensory bionic hand, developed in 2014. An engineering feat marinated with the glaring shortcoming of the bulky sensory and computer components that accompanied the arm hence could not leave the lab.
Another beneficiary of the bionic fingers was Dennis Sorensen, who lost his hand more than a decade ago to a firecracker explosion. He expresses his joy of being able to tell the difference in texture between various objects. With a test accuracy of 88% in distinguishing objects based on texture and shapes, you can easily appreciate the magnitude of the creative practical solution that science has brought in the lives of the amputees.
Mundane Things That Make You Whole
Its simple things such as dressing and tying your shoelaces that you might take for granted that amputees face an uphill task to complete on their own. The ability to regain control of such simple but yet important daily routine is what brings joy to Almerina Mascarello – a victim of medical amputation occasioned by occupational accident.
The Science behind the Prosthetic Bionic Hand
In theory, the prosthetic bionic hand is connected to the nerve system of the human body via electrodes. Through the aforesaid channel of communication, the bionic hand picks information which is interpreted by a computer interlinked with the bionic prosthetic hand before being relayed back to the brain via the electrodes.
The sophisticated sensors fitted on the prosthetic hand can detect whether an object is soft or hard and then transmit the information via a computer placed in the rucksack to interpret the data into a form that’s understandable to the brain ‘fitted with tiny electrodes’.
In order to draw a comprehensive analysis of the response by the bionic arms, the recipient was blindfolded and presented with an object to explain the texture.
“The feeling is spontaneous as if it were your real hand; you’re finally able to do things that before were difficult, like getting dressed, putting on shoes,” said Almerina, “All mundane things, really, but important. You feel complete,” she added.
Reliving the Dream of Science Fiction
Professor Paolo Rossini, a neurologist at University Hospital Agostino Gemelli in Rome, said, “Once you can control a robotic prosthesis with your brain you can think about creating one that allows more complex movements than a hand with five fingers.” Other scientists are optimistic that the bionic hand will be far much better than the ordinary human arm.
This was highlighted by Professor Silvestro Micera, a neuro-engineer at EPFL in Lausanne and Sant’Anna School of Advanced Studies in Switzerland, who stated “We are going more and more in the direction of science fiction movies like Luke Skywalker’s bionic hand in Star wars- a fully controlled, fully natural, sensorized prosthesis, identical to the human hand.”
Furthermore, scientists will have the task of fully minimizing the package by integrating all the computer components in the arm and eliminate the backpack. All in all, we have to applaud the tremendous effort placed by the team of scientists whose vision is to have the portable bionic hand on the market soon rather than later.