New prosthetic robot arm provides unprecedented control by reading the user’s natural muscle movements.
Remember Luke Skywalker’s fancy robotic arm at the end of Empire Strikes Back? Other than the complex inner-workings, the uber-realistic replacement was barely indecipherable from the real thing and his light saber skills hardly missed a beat. While these advances were believable in the context of a science fiction universe, the technologies seemed far from possible in our world; the bebionic3 hopes to make that a reality, delivering an amazing range of motion and precision back to those who have lost a limb.
The myoelectric prosthetic hand uses the residual neuro-muscular signals from a person’s muscles to perform a number of functions. It picks up on combinations of muscle movement on either side of the patient’s arm and translates them into 14 hand positions and grips, allowing wearers the ability to perform a variety of precise actions like shaking hands, writing with a pen, delicately holding glasses and bottles and cracking eggs. The device has sensors that detect when a held item is slipping, automatically adjusting the grip to compensate, even making the fingers flex ‘naturally’ when they bump into objects.
An associated software called bebalance enables patients to work with their clinician to customize the operation of their bionic hand to their exact specifications, tailoring functions such as grip power and speed. This platform can also be used to help train individuals to better use their advanced prosthetics, assessing their performance over time.
The futuristic-looking bebionic3 is offered with 19 different skin-tone gloves to approximate the appearance of real hands. With fingernails and details around the knuckles and joints it’s realistic enough that one tester preferred a non-descript black glove so his new hand won’t look too real. The same test user remarked,
“Having a bebionic hand is like being human again, psychologically I wouldn’t be without it. I can hold the phone, shake hands and wash my left hand normally, which I haven’t been able to for five years….Overall, the bebionic hand has had a great impact on my life, not only does it look more like a human hand but it also functions more like a human hand.”
Needless to say this is a truly a next-generation product that can vastly improve the lives of many amputees. The psychological benefit of having a functional, life-like hand where before there was none is huge in itself. As this technology improves it will bring thousands back to the workforce and help people reconnect with their passions and independence. Additionally, insights gained on how people use these arms could improve artificial intelligence to build better robots and develop software that works with prosthetic limbs to make movement even more natural.
See this remarkable technology in action in the video below:
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