Scientists engineer major breakthrough with robotic prosthetics

BOCA RATON, Florida. – It is estimated that just over two million people are living with limb loss in the United States and that number is expected to double by 2050.

A first-of-its-kind study is underway at Florida Atlantic University that could be a game-changer for people with prosthetic hands by providing long-awaited advances in dexterity.

Typing on a keypad, using a remote control, unlocking and opening a door: these basic tasks that many of us take for granted are not only a challenge for people like Miguel Fernandez, they can be downright impossible.

“I was born with a birth defect just below my elbow,” Fernandez said.

It is now part of groundbreaking research at Florida Atlantic University’s College of Engineering and Computer Science.

In a lab at FAU, Dr. Erik Engeberg and his colleagues are studying the use of haptic feedback in robotic prostheses.

“The idea is to look at multiple channels of tactile feedback, tactile sensations, and multiple channels of control. What this means is how well can you do multiple things simultaneously, which would lead, like a building block, to more complex tasks like playing a musical instrument or playing sports,” said Engeberg.

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Researchers not only address the issue of controlling objects, but also feeling them.

“In this case, we’ve developed a non-invasive wearable armband. It’s basically a flexible robotic armband and it contains them, you can think of them as programmable smart balloons, which map a pressure proportional to a feeling of the fingertips to a different location on a residual limb,” says Engeberg.

This means that Fernandez can grab one or more objects and feel the forces with his fingertips without even looking at them.

“It’s something I’ve been very excited about because it has a practical impact in real life that I can relate to. What the future holds is going to be amazing, I can’t even imagine it,” he said.

The FAU team believe they could have a ready-to-go take-home device within the next year.

The technology could also be used for lower limb prostheses in the future.

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