Solar-powered synthetic skin could give robots a sense of touch and allow amputees to feel again

Synthetic skin capable of touch sensitivity could make smart prosthetic hands more useful for amputees

DOCTORS WIRED A PROSTHETIC HAND DIRECTLY INTO A WOMAN’S NERVES

JON CHRISTIAN__FILED UNDER: ENHANCED HUMANS
VICTOR TANGERMANN

Sans Hand

In a world first, doctors in Sweden say they’ve wired a prosthetic hand directly into a woman’s nervesallowing her to move its fingers with her mind and even feel tactile sensations.

The hand is an enormous step up from existing prostheses, which often rely on electrodes placed on the outside of the skin — and it could herald a future in which robotic devices interface seamlessly with our bodies.

Nerve Case

Researchers at Chalmers University of Technology and biotech firm Integrum AB created the prosthetic hand as part of DeTOP, an ambitious European research program on prosthetic limbs.

Surgeons anchored the hand to the woman’s forearm bones using titanium implants. They connected an array of 16 electrodes directly to her nerves and muscles, allowing her to control the hand with her mind — and, according to photos, use it to tie shoelaces and type on a laptop computer.

“The breakthrough of our technology consists on enabling patients to use implanted neuromuscular interfaces to control their prosthesis while perceiving sensations where it matters for them, in their daily life,” Chalmers researcher Ortiz Catalan said in a press release.

Virtual Light

Electronics wired straight into a human nervous system allow for mind-bending new ways to interact with technology. A video released by the Swedish researchers even shows the woman using the implant to flex a virtual hand on a computer screen — before the actual physical hand was installed.

For decades, cyborg limbs like those depicted in “Star Wars” or “Neuromancer” seemed relegated to the realm of science fiction. New research shows that they’re already here — just not yet widely available.

Source of the Article: https://futurism.com/the-byte/prosthetic-hand-womans-nerves

Researchers demonstrate key to success of nerve transfer technique in bionic reconstruction

Modern prostheses offer patients who have had a hand amputated much greater capability in everyday life than was possible with previous prosthetic reconstructive techniques. Redundant nerves from the amputated extremity can be surgically transferred to provide a much better connection between the patient’s body and the prosthesis. This technique has proven to be successful, although the specific reasons for its success were not fully understood. A team of researchers led by Konstantin Bergmeister and Oskar Aszmann from the Division of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery and the Christian Doppler Laboratory for Recovery of Limb Function at MedUni Vienna, demonstrated, in an animal model, that the key to success lies in the muscle undergoing a change of identity triggered by the donor nerve.

Bionic prostheses are mentally controlled, in that they register the activation of residual muscles in the limb stump. Theoretically it should be possible for the latest generation prostheses to execute the same number of movements as a healthy human hand. However, the link between man and prosthesis is not yet capable of controlling all mechanically possible functions, because the interface between man and prostheses is limited in terms of signal transmission. “If we could solve this problem, the latest prostheses could actually become an intuitively operated replacement that functions just like a human hand,” underscore the researchers.

To enable the prosthesis to move at all, nerves have to be surgically transferred during the amputation procedure to increase the total number of muscle control signals. This involves connecting amputated peripheral nerves to residual muscles in the amputation stump. This method is very successful, because these muscles regenerate after a few months to provide better control of the prosthesis. However, until now, it was not clear what specific changes this nerve transfer technique produces in muscles and nerves.

Previously unknown neurophysiological effects discovered

As part of an experimental study conducted over several years, a research team led by Konstantin Bergmeister and Oskar Aszmann from MedUni Vienna’s Division of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery (Head: Christine Radtke) and Christian Doppler Laboratory for Recovery of Limb Function have now shown that this nerve transfer technique has previously unidentified neurophysiological effects. These result in more accurate muscle contractility and much more finely controlled muscle signals than previously thought.

It was also found that muscles take on the identity of the donor nerves, that is to say the function of the muscle from which the nerve was originally harvested. This means that muscles can be modified very specifically to achieve the desired control of the lost extremity. This information will now be used in follow-up studies to refine the surgical technique of nerve transfer and adapt it more accurately to fine control systems. The vision of an intuitively controlled prosthesis that can perform all the natural manual functions could become a reality within the next few years.

Source:

https://www.meduniwien.ac.at/web/en/about-us/news/detailsite/2019/news-im-jaenner-2019/bionic-reconstruction-after-amputation-of-a-hand-muscles-can-be-repurposed-using-nerve-transfers/

Source of Article: https://www.news-medical.net/news/20190107/Researchers-demonstrate-key-to-success-of-nerve-transfer-technique-in-bionic-reconstruction.aspx

BIOMEDICAL ENGINEERING BRINGING A HUMAN TOUCH TO MODERN PROSTHETICS

‘Electronic skin’ allows user to experience a sense of touch and pain; ‘After many years, I felt my hand, as if a hollow shell got filled with life again,’ amputee volunteer says

Amputees often experience the sensation of a “phantom limb”—a feeling that a missing body part is still there.

That sensory illusion is closer to becoming a reality thanks to a team of engineers at Johns Hopkins University that has created an electronic skin. When layered on top of prosthetic hands, this e-dermis brings back a real sense of touch through the fingertips.

“After many years, I felt my hand, as if a hollow shell got filled with life again,” says the amputee who served as the team’s principal volunteer. (The research protocol used in the study does not allow identification of the amputee volunteers.)

Made of fabric and rubber laced with sensors to mimic nerve endings, e-dermis recreates a sense of touch as well as pain by sensing stimuli and relaying the impulses back to the peripheral nerves.

“We’ve made a sensor that goes over the fingertips of a prosthetic hand and acts like your own skin would,” says Luke Osborn, a graduate student in biomedical engineering. “It’s inspired by what is happening in human biology, with receptors for both touch and pain.

Luke Osborn interacts with prosthetic hand

Image caption:Luke Osborn interacts with a prosthetic hand sporting the e-dermis

IMAGE CREDIT: LARRY CANNER / HOMEWOOD PHOTOGRAPHY

“This is interesting and new,” Osborn adds, “because now we can have a prosthetic hand that is already on the market and fit it with an e-dermis that can tell the wearer whether he or she is picking up something that is round or whether it has sharp points.”

The work, published online in the journal Science Robotics, shows it’s possible to restore a range of natural, touch-based feelings to amputees who use prosthetic limbs. The ability to detect pain could be useful, for instance, not only in prosthetic hands but also in lower limb prostheses, alerting the user to potential damage to the device.

Human skin is made up of a complex network of receptors that relay a variety of sensations to the brain. This network provided a biological template for the research team, which includes members from the Johns Hopkins departments of Biomedical EngineeringElectrical and Computer Engineering, and Neurology, and from the Singapore Institute of Neurotechnology.

VIDEO: AMERICAN ACADEMY FOR THE ADVANCEMENT OF SCIENCE

Bringing a more human touch to modern prosthetic designs is critical, especially when it comes to incorporating the ability to feel pain, Osborn says.

“Pain is, of course, unpleasant, but it’s also an essential, protective sense of touch that is lacking in the prostheses that are currently available to amputees,” he says. “Advances in prosthesis designs and control mechanisms can aid an amputee’s ability to regain lost function, but they often lack meaningful, tactile feedback or perception.”

That’s where the e-dermis comes in, conveying information to the amputee by stimulating peripheral nerves in the arm, making the so-called phantom limb come to life. Inspired by human biology, the e-dermis enables its user to sense a continuous spectrum of tactile perceptions, from light touch to noxious or painful stimulus.

The e-dermis does this by electrically stimulating the amputee’s nerves in a non-invasive way, through the skin, says the paper’s senior author, Nitish Thakor, a professor of biomedical engineering and director of the Biomedical Instrumentation and Neuroengineering Laboratory at Johns Hopkins.

“For the first time, a prosthesis can provide a range of perceptions from fine touch to noxious to an amputee, making it more like a human hand,” says Thakor, co-founder of Infinite Biomedical Technologies, the Baltimore-based company that provided the prosthetic hardware used in the study.

THE TEAM FOCUSED ON DEVELOPING A SYSTEM CAPABLE OF DETECTING OBJECT CURVATURE (FOR TOUCH AND SHAPE PERCEPTION) AND SHARPNESS (FOR PAIN PERCEPTION).

The team created a “neuromorphic model” mimicking the touch and pain receptors of the human nervous system, allowing the e-dermis to electronically encode sensations just as the receptors in the skin would. Tracking brain activity via electroencephalography, or EEG, the team determined that the test subject was able to perceive these sensations in his phantom hand.

The researchers then connected the e-dermis output to the volunteer by using a noninvasive method known as transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation, or TENS. In a pain-detection task the team determined that the test subject and the prosthesis were able to experience a natural, reflexive reaction to both pain while touching a pointed object and non-pain when touching a round object.

The e-dermis is not sensitive to temperature—for this study, the team focused on detecting object curvature (for touch and shape perception) and sharpness (for pain perception). The e-dermis technology could be used to make robotic systems more human, and it could also be used to expand or extend to astronaut gloves and space suits, Osborn says.

The researchers plan to further develop the technology and work to better understand how to provide meaningful sensory information to amputees in the hopes of making the system ready for widespread patient use.

Johns Hopkins is a pioneer in the field of upper limb dexterous prosthesis. More than a decade ago, the university’s Applied Physics Laboratory led the development of the advanced Modular Prosthetic Limb, which an amputee patient controls with the muscles and nerves that once controlled his or her real arm or hand.

Posted in Science+Technology

Source of article: https://hub.jhu.edu/2018/06/20/e-dermis-prosthetic-sense-of-touch/

Vibrations Restore Sense of Movement in Prosthetics

Scientists recreate proprioception for people with artificial arms using a perceptual illusion.

Sep 1, 2018
By DIANA KWON

 

 

When Amanda Kitts’s car was hit head-on by a Ford F-350 truck in 2006, her arm was damaged beyond repair. “It looked like minced meat,” Kitts, now 50, recalls. She was immediately rushed to the hospital, where doctors amputated what remained of her mangled limb.

While still in the hospital, Kitts discovered that researchers at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago (now the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab) were investigating a new technique called targeted muscle reinnervation, which would enable people to control motorized prosthetics with their minds. The procedure, which involves surgically rewiring residual nerves from an amputated limb into a nearby muscle, allows movement-related electrical signals—sent from the brain to the innervated muscles—to move a prosthetic device.

Kitts immediately enrolled in the study and had the reinnervation surgery around a year after her accident. With her new prosthetic, Kitts regained a functional limb that she could use with her thoughts alone. But something important was missing. “I was able to move a prosthetic just by thinking about it, but I still couldn’t tell if I was holding or letting go of something,” Kitts says. “Sometimes my muscle might contract, and whatever I was holding would drop—so I found myself [often] looking at my arm when I was using it.”

What Kitts’s prosthetic limb failed to provide was a sense of kinesthesia—the awareness of where one’s body parts are and how they are moving. (Kinesthesia is a form of proprioception with a more specific focus on motion than on position.) Taken for granted by most people, kinesthesia is what allows us to unconsciously grab a coffee mug off a desk or to rapidly catch a falling object before it hits the ground. “It’s how we make such nice, elegant, coordinated movements, but you don’t necessarily think about it when it happens,” explains Paul Marasco, a neuroscientist at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio. “There’s constant and rapid communication that goes on between the muscles and the brain.” The brain sends the intent to move the muscle, the muscle moves, and the awareness of that movement is fed back to the brain (see “Proprioception: The Sense Within,” The Scientist, September 2016).

GOOD VIBRATIONS: The prosthetic makes use of a kinesthetic phenomenon whereby vibrating a person’s muscle provides a false sense of movement.
PAUL MARASCO, LABORATORY FOR BIONIC INTEGRATION

Prosthetic technology has advanced significantly in recent years, but proprioception is one thing that many of these modern devices still cannot reproduce, Marasco says. And it’s clear that this is something that people find important, he adds, because many individuals with upper-limb amputations still prefer old-school body-powered hook prosthetics. Despite being low tech—the devices work using a bicycle brake–like cable system that’s powered by the body’s own movements—they provide an inherent sense of proprioception.

To restore this sense for amputees who use the more modern prosthetics, Marasco and his colleagues decided to create a device based on what’s known as the kinesthetic illusion: the strange phenomenon in which vibrating a person’s muscle gives her the false sense of movement. A buzz to the triceps will make you think your arm is flexing, while stimulating the biceps will make you feel that it’s extending (Exp Brain Res, 47:177–90, 1982). The best illustration of this effect is the so-called Pinocchio illusion: holding your nose while someone applies a vibrating device to your bicep will confuse your brain into thinking your nose is growing (Brain, 111:281–97, 1988). “Your brain doesn’t like conflict,” Marasco explains. So if it thinks “my arm’s moving and I’m holding onto my nose, that must mean my nose is extending.”

To test the device, the team applied vibrations to the reinnervated muscles on six amputee participants’ chests or upper arms and asked them to indicate how they felt their hands were moving. Each amputee reported feeling various hand, wrist, and elbow motions, or “percepts,” in their missing limbs. Kitts, who had met Marasco while taking part in the studies he was involved in at the institute in Chicago, was one of the subjects in the experiment. “The first time I felt the sense of movement was remarkable,” she says.

In total, the experimenters documented 22 different percepts from their participants. “It’s hard to get this sense reliably, so I was encouraged to see the capability of several different subjects to get a reasonable sense of hand position from this illusion,” says Dustin Tyler, a biomedical engineer at Case Western Reserve University who was not involved in the work. He adds that while this is a new, noninvasive approach to proprioception, he and others are also working on devices that restore this sense by stimulating nerves directly with implanted devices (Sci Rep, 8:9866, 2018).

Marasco and his colleagues then melded the vibration with the movement-controlled prostheses, so that when participants decided to move their artificial limbs, a vibrating stimulus was applied to the muscles to provide them with proprioceptive feedback. When the subjects conducted various movement-related tasks with this new system, their performance significantly improved (Sci Transl Med, 10:eaao6990, 2018).

The first time I felt the sense of movement was remarkable.

“This was an extremely thorough set of experiments,” says Marcia O’Malley, a biomedical engineer at Rice University who did not take part in that study. “I think it is really promising.”

Although the mechanisms behind the illusion largely remain a mystery, Marasco says, the vibrations may be activating specific muscle receptors that provide the body with a sense of movement. Interestingly, he and his colleagues have found that the “sweet spot” vibration frequency for movement perception is nearly identical in humans and rats—about 90 Hz (PLOS ONE, 12:e0188559, 2017).

For Kitts, a system that provides proprioceptive feedback means being able to use her prosthetic without constantly watching it—and feeling it instead. “It’s whole new level of having a real part of your body,” she says.

Source of the article: www.the-scientist.com

New artificial nerves could transform prosthetics

Source of the Article: www.sciencemag.org

 

Prosthetics may soon take on a whole new feel. That’s because researchers have created a new type of artificial nerve that can sense touch, process information, and communicate with other nerves much like those in our own bodies do. Future versions could add sensors to track changes in texture, position, and different types of pressure, leading to potentially dramatic improvements in how people with artificial limbs—and someday robots—sense and interact with their environments.

“It’s a pretty nice advance,” says Robert Shepherd, an organic electronics expert at Cornell University. Not only are the soft, flexible, organic materials used to make the artificial nerve ideal for integrating with pliable human tissue, but they are also relatively cheap to manufacture in large arrays, Shepherd says.

Modern prosthetics are already impressive: Some allow amputees to control arm movement with just their thoughts; others have pressure sensors in the fingertips that help wearers control their grip without the need to constantly monitor progress with their eyes. But our natural sense of touch is far more complex, integrating thousands of sensors that track different types of pressure, such as soft and forceful touch, along with the ability to sense heat and changes in position. This vast amount of information is ferried by a network that passes signals through local clusters of nerves to the spinal cord and ultimately the brain. Only when the signals combine to become strong enough do they make it up the next link in the chain.

Now, researchers led by chemist Zhenan Bao at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California, have constructed an artificial sensory nerve that works in much the same way. Made of flexible organic components, the nerve consists of three parts. First, a series of dozens of sensors pick up on pressure cues. Pressing on one of these sensors causes an increase in voltage between two electrodes. This change is then picked up by a second device called a ring oscillator, which converts voltage changes into a string of electrical pulses. These pulses, and those from other pressure sensor/ring oscillator combos, are fed into a third device called a synaptic transistor, which sends out a series of electrical pulses in patterns that match those produced by biological neurons.

Bao and her colleagues used their setup to detect the motion of a small rod moving in different directions across their pressure sensors, as well as identify Braille characters. What’s more, they managed to connect their artificial neuron to a biological counterpart. The researchers detached a leg from a cockroach and inserted an electrode from the artificial neuron to a neuron in the roach leg; signals coming from the artificial neuron caused muscles in the leg to contract, they report today in Science.

Because organic electronics like this are inexpensive to make, the approach should allow scientists to integrate large numbers of artificial nerves that could pick up on multiple types of sensory information, Shepherd says. Such a system could provide far more sensory information to future prosthetics wearers, helping them better control their new appendages. It could also give future robots a greater ability to interact with their ever-changing environments—something vital for performing complex tasks, such as caring for the elderly.