Researchers from Switzerland’s Ecole polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) and Italy’s Scuola Superiore Sant'Anna (SSSA) have developed a bionic fingertip, which enables amputees to feel smoothness and roughness in real-time.
An amputee can feel rough or smooth textures in real-time with an artificial fingertip that was surgically connected to nerves in his upper arm.
EPFL said the advancement will enhance the development of touch enabled prosthetics.
EPFL’s Micera team and SSSA’s Calogero Oddo team were involved in the development of this technology that will deliver the sophisticated tactile information.
Amputee Dennis Aabo Sørensen is the first person across the globe to recognize texture using a bionic fingertip connected to electrodes, which have been surgically implanted above his stump.
Sørensen said: "The stimulation felt almost like what I would feel with my hand.
"I still feel my missing hand, it is always clenched in a fist. I felt the texture sensations at the tip of the index finger of my phantom hand."
Nerves in Sørensen’s arm have been wired to an artificial fingertip equipped with sensors, and a machine controlled the movement of the fingertip over different pieces of plastic engraved with different patterns, smooth or rough.
The sensors generated an electrical signal, as the fingertip moved across the textured plastic.
According to EPFL, this signal was translated into a series of electrical spikes, simulating the language of the nervous system, then delivered to the nerves.
SSSA’s BioRobotics Institute Calogero Oddo said: "This study merges fundamental sciences and applied engineering: it provides additional evidence that research in neuroprosthetics can contribute to the neuroscience debate, specifically about the neuronal mechanisms of the human sense of touch."
The research was conducted by EPFL and SSSA in partnership with Università di Pisa, IRCCS San Raffaele Pisana, Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore, Università Campus Biomedico.
Image: Researchers have developed bionic fingertip that allows amputees to feel smoothness and roughness in real-time. Photo: courtesy of Hillary Sanctuary / EPFL.