Answer: A sense of touch.
A recent project in Rome has created the first bionic hand with a sense of touch that can be used outside of a laboratory. The technology is the result of a collaboration of specialists in engineering, neuroscience, surgery, electronics and robotics from Italy, Germany and Switzerland.
Almerina Mascarello, a partial amputee who lost her left hand in an accident, used the hand for six months with positive results.
“It worked very well with her, she learned to master the technology soon,” Silvestro Micera, translational neuroengineering professor at the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne School of Engineering, told Digital Trends.
The fingers on the hand convey information about the softness or firmness of a surface/object to a backpack carried by the wearer, which then transmits that information to tiny electrodes implanted in their upper arm. These electrodes communicate that information with the brain.
“We ‘translate’ the information recorded by the artificial sensors in the hand into stimuli delivered to the nerves,” Micera said. “The information is then understood by the brain, which makes the patient feeling pressure at different fingers.”
Going forward, the team hopes to reduce the size of the technology so that it could one day be made available commercially.