Amplified Nerves Lead To Mind-Controlled Prosthetic Hands

University of Michigan researchers have found a way to amplify faint signals from nerves in the arms; this makes possible real-time, intuitive finger-level control of a robotic hand.

...researchers developed a way to tame temperamental nerve endings, separate thick nerve bundles into smaller fibers that enable more precise control, and amplify the signals coming through those nerves. The approach involves tiny muscle grafts and machine learning algorithms borrowed from the brain-machine interface field.

“This is the biggest advance in motor control for people with amputations in many years,” said Paul Cederna, who is the Robert Oneal Collegiate Professor of Plastic Surgery at the U-M Medical School, as well as a professor of biomedical engineering.

“We have developed a technique to provide individual finger control of prosthetic devices using the nerves in a patient’s residual limb. With it, we have been able to provide some of the most advanced prosthetic control that the world has seen.”

(Via University of Michigan News.)

SF readers and viewers were aware of these possibilities a generation ago. In Martin Caidin's 1972 novel Cyborg (made into the Six Million Dollar Man television series), Steve Austin has a bionic arm.

"When you think to pick up an object, what happened before with your original arm is repeated. The electrical impulses generated by your brain command everything... The artificial muscles.. which in this case are silastic and vitallium pulleys, then contract, twist, and tighten. You can even sense with your fingertips..."

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