Biomedical engineers at Newcastle University in the UK have developed a prosthetic hand with an incredible new skill: the ability to "see."
The bionic hand is fitted with a camera that "instantaneously takes a picture of the object in front of it, assesses its shape and size and triggers a series of movements in the hand," according to a news release from the school.
The team hopes this ushers in a new era of prosthetic hands that work better than anything available today, allowing the wearer to reach for objects automatically, without thinking. Prosthetic hands today require the wearer to physically stimulate the muscles of the arm to initiative movement — a process that takes concentration and practice.
The new bionic hand bypasses this process: it "'sees' and reacts in one fluid movement," the school said. "The hand 'sees' an object, picks the most appropriate grasp and sends a signal … all within a matter of milliseconds and ten times faster than any other limb currently on the market."
The developers have already trialed this new technology with a small number of amputees. Now, they're working with Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust to offer the innovation to patients. A report on their work was published this week in the Journal of Neural Engineering. In the future, they're hoping to develop a bionic hand that can sense pressure and temperature and transmit this information to the wearer's brain.
In a statement, co-author of the study Dr Kianoush Nazarpour, a senior lecturer of biomedical engineering at Newcastle University, said prosthetic limbs haven't changed much in the past century.
"The design is much better and the materials are lighter weight and more durable but they still work in the same way," Nazarpour said. "Using computer vision, we have developed a bionic hand which can respond automatically — in fact, just like a real hand, the user can reach out and pick up a cup or a biscuit with nothing more than a quick glance in the right direction."