Remember Luke Skywalker from Star Wars who lost his hand in duel with Darth Vader? The young Jedi could hardly regret his loss because he received an artificial hand which allowed him to grip and feel once again. With the lines between science and fiction quickly being blurred as scientists continuously cross the line to create something we had only imagined in sci-fi books and movies, this particular Star Wars episode encouraged many scientists to build prosthetic limbs that can create sensation in the body.
A team of researchers experimented their vision on amputee Dennis Aabo Sorensen from Denmark. Sorensen had damaged his hand almost a decade ago when he was playing with fireworks which led to the amputation of his forearm. A bionic arm has been created and he is constantly asked if he can feel softness or hardness of an object, the shape and texture of the things he holds with his bionic hand.
An artificial fingertip which is about the size of a postage stamp was connected to electrodes which are surgically implanted in the nerves of Sorensen’s upper left arm. The sensors in the tip of the artificial finger generate electrical signals which are transported to the nervous system after being translated into a series of electrical spikes. Sorensen was able to pick up the texture of the devices 96% of the times he tried.
The researchers also connected the fingertip to non-amputees to check the accuracy of the device. The non-amputees were able to recognize the texture 77% of the times. This may be possible because the electrodes were not surgically implanted in them, instead it was attached to their arms.
The fingertip is being integrated into a prosthetic hand so that it can be made available for patients who have lost their arm and are using prosthetics. It is said to be made available to patients by the end of this year.