European researchers have successfully implanted tiny electrodes directly into motor and sensory nerves of an amputee's arm stump, allowing him to move and feel sensations from a robotic hand. While overall this project looks less advanced than other projects such as the Luke Arm developed by Dean Kamen's DEKA, the direct implantation of electrodes seems more straight forward than other current approaches, such as surgically rerouting an amputees’ residual arm nerves to the pectoral muscles and then generate control signals via electrodes detecting pectoral muscle contractions. The researchers also hope that this novel method will allow for faster and, ultimately, more complex control and sensing of artificial limbs for partial amputees.

In this first trial a single amputee chosen from 30 volunteers underwent tests with the implanted electrodes for 1 month before having them removed - more long-term implants are still a major challenge. However, according to researchers the patient mastered the robotic hand within a few days and by the time of the trial the hand obeyed the commands it received from the man's brain in 95 percent of cases. Researchers are now working on significantly increasing the amount of time the hair-thin electrodes can stay in the body.

For more information have a look at the Cyberhand website (unfortunately has been offline for the past few days), a video in English or some more comprehensive videos in Italian and German.

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How Robots Can Help Us Act and Feel Younger

Toyota’s Gill Pratt on enhancing independence in old age

10 min read
An illustration of a woman making a salad with robotic arms around her holding vegetables and other salad ingredients.
Dan Page

By 2050, the global population aged 65 or more will be nearly double what it is today. The number of people over the age of 80 will triple, approaching half a billion. Supporting an aging population is a worldwide concern, but this demographic shift is especially pronounced in Japan, where more than a third of Japanese will be 65 or older by midcentury.

Toyota Research Institute (TRI), which was established by Toyota Motor Corp. in 2015 to explore autonomous cars, robotics, and “human amplification technologies,” has also been focusing a significant portion of its research on ways to help older people maintain their health, happiness, and independence as long as possible. While an important goal in itself, improving self-sufficiency for the elderly also reduces the amount of support they need from society more broadly. And without technological help, sustaining this population in an effective and dignified manner will grow increasingly difficult—first in Japan, but globally soon after.

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