Regaining sensitivity to temperature , to the point of perceiving the heat of another human being, becomes possible for amputees even through a prosthesis : for the first time Fabrizio, a 57-year-old man from Pistoia with an amputation at wrist level, managed to recognize objects of different temperatures and materials and appreciate physical contact, thanks to a device developed by the collaboration between the Scuola Superiore Sant'Anna of Pisa, the Federal Polytechnic of Lausanne and the Inail Prosthetic Center in Vigorso di Budrio, in the province of Bologna. The device, the subject of a study published in the journal Med, can be easily incorporated into prostheses and does not require surgical interventions.
“ Temperature is one of the last frontiers for restoring sensitivity to robotic hands ,” comments Silvestro Micera of Scuola Sant'Anna, who coordinated the study together with Solaiman Shokur of EPFL. “For the first time – adds Micera – we are really close to restoring the full range of sensations to people with amputations ”.
The device, called ' MiniTouch ', transmits temperature information from the fingertips of the prosthetic hand to the remaining part of the arm. “When one of the researchers placed the sensor on his body, I could feel the warmth of another person with my phantom hand,” says Fabrizio: “It was a very strong emotion for me, it was like reactivating a bond with someone”.
The technology is currently being tested . The next step will be to make it ready for home use and integrate information from multiple points of the phantom limb: for example, differentiating the sensations of the thumb and index finger could be useful for better grasping a hot drink, while also adding sensitivity to the back of the robotic hand would help sense when another person touches your hand.
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