BOCA RATON, Fla. – It’s 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 giving them long-awaited advances in dexterity.
Typing on a keyboard, using a remote control, unlocking, and opening a door: These basic tasks so 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 congenital birth defect just below the elbow,” said Fernandez.
He’s now part of groundbreaking research at Florida Atlantic University’s College of Engineering and Computer Science.
In an FAU lab, Dr. Erik Engeberg and colleagues are investigating the use of haptic feedback in robotic prosthetics.
“The idea is it’s looking at multiple channels of touch feedback, touch sensations, and multiple channels of control. W what that means is how well can you do multiple things simultaneous something that would lead, like a building block, towards more complex tasks like playing a musical instrument or playing sports,” Engeberg said.
The researchers are not just addressing the issue of controlling objects, but also actually feeling them.
“In this case we developed a noninvasive wearable armband it’s basically a soft robotic armband and it’s got these, you could think of them as programmable intelligent balloons, that map a proportional pressure from a fingertip sensation to a different location on a residual limb,” Engeberg said.
That means Fernandez can grab one or more objects and actually feel the fingertip forces without even looking at them.
“That’s something that i was very excited about because it has a real life practical impact that i can relate to. What the future holds is going to be incredible i can’t even imagine it,” he said.
The F.A.U. team believes they could have a take home device ready for use within the next year.
The technology could also be used for lower limb prosthetics down the road.