Touching moments in prosthetics: New bionic limbs that can ‘feel’
Phantom pain was all that Keven Walgamott had left of the limb he lost in an accident over a decade ago — until he tried on the LUKE Arm for the first time in 2017, and told researchers that he could “feel” again. The arm is a motorized and sensorized prosthetic that has been in development for more than 15 years by a team at the University of Utah.
Researchers around the world have been developing prosthetics that closely mimic the part of the human body they would replace. This goes beyond the cosmetic and even the functional; these are bionic body parts that can touch and feel, and even learn new things.
“Touch isn’t a single sense,” said Gregory Clark, associate professor of biomedical engineering at the University of Utah and lead researcher of the study. “When you first touch objects with a natural hand, there’s an extra burst of neural impulses.”
The brain then “translates” these into characteristics such as firmness, texture and temperature, all of which are crucial in deciding how to interact with the object, he said. In other words, by using the LUKE Arm (named after the “Star Wars” hero Luke Skywalker, and manufactured by Deka), Walgamott, of West Valley City, Utah, was able to “feel” the fragility of a mechanical egg, just as he would have with a natural limb. He could pick it up and transfer it without damaging it.
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