A robotic arm to replace an amputee’s hand is definitely among the most important technological advancement of this century. Being able to provide disabled people a second chance to regain mobility is like a fairy tail that comes true.
And so, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Shanghai Jiao Tong University (SJTU) collaborated to invent a new type of inflatable lightweight robotic prosthetic hand!
The two universities were able to design a new type of robotic prosthetic that can potentially be produced at low cost. This latest technological breakthrough will fill all amputees around the world with new hope that one day they will be able to use their arms again using this new invention.
In the past, prosthetic hands were typically passive. These artificial hands are unable to move on their own and their usefulness is limited. As time goes, robotic prosthetics technology is getting more common. Powered using a battery, the robot arms will be able to perform several movements.
However, the current generation of robotic artificial hands are still very expensive and relatively heavier. They are made out of solid materials and thus the cost to manufacture them would be higher.
Using inflatable design, the new prosthetic hands would be lighter, softer, and cheaper as well as easier to produce.
In addition, the smart bionic limbs that are built using metal skeleton would require harder maintenance because of the moving tiny joints and electrical motor. Meanwhile, this inflatable prosthetic would be easier to maintain because it uses controlled air pressure to move the flexible fingers..
To perform grip movements, MIT and SJTU utilize the ultra-futuristic neuroprosthetic technology. This design allows amputees to move the bionic hand using residual muscle signals.
Basically, people with an amputated hand are still sending muscle signals even after they lost their limb. The brain is thinking that the hand is still intact. The inflatable neuroprosthetic will be able to detect this residual signal and perform the intended fingers movement. In a way, this robotic hand is controlled using the amputee’s mind.
In other words, an amputee can wear this inflatable neuroprosthetic hand, think about specific hand motion, then the robotic arm will pick up the signal and perform the actual movement. It is almost like magic because you don’t need to actually attach any neuron directly to the prosthetic.
With this inflatable bionic limb, amputees can perform various hand and fingers movements such as pinching, gripping, or cupping. In the video demonstration, an amputee was able to pour milik, zip a suitcase, and pick up objects.
In current design, this inflatable prosthetic robot hand can be 3D printed using materials made out of durable and flexible elastomer EcoFlex. To inflate and adjust the robotic artificial hand, amputees will carry a small pump with valves that can be attached on their waist.
This invention is something that will definitely change the world. The cutting edge neuroprosthetic, that was once thought to be too expensive, now will be affordable for everyone!