robotic hand, prosthetic hand
AP Photo/Courtesy of Bio-Medical Campus University
This undated photo made available from the Bio-Medical Campus University of Rome on
Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2009, shows Pierpaolo Petruzziello's amputated hand linked with
electrodes to a robotic hand, seen at top left, as part of an experiment, called LifeHand,
to control the prosthetic with his thoughts.

Prosthetic Hand Controlled By Thoughts

December 03, 2009 05:35 PM
by Colleen Brondou
European scientists claim an Italian amputee is the first to control complex movements of a robotic hand connected to his nervous system.

Man Feels Sensations in Artificial Hand

Pierpaolo Petruzziello, a 26-year-old Italian man who lost his forearm in a car accident, was able to make a fist and hold objects with a robotic hand. During a one-month experiment, the artificial limb was connected to the stump of his arm by electrodes and controlled by his thoughts. Petruzziello was even able to feel needles being poked into the hand, Nick Squires reported for the Telegraph.

“It felt almost the same as a real hand,” he told a press conference in Rome, according to the Telegraph. “It’s a matter of mind, of concentration. When you think of it as your hand and forearm, it all becomes easier.”

Although similar experiments have been performed before, the Italian researchers involved in the project say it is the first time such complex movements have been achieved using the human nervous system to control a biomechanical device.

According to Silvestro Micera, one of the Italian researchers, the “LifeHand” experiment, at one month, was the longest time electrodes have been connected to a human nervous system. Although experts agree that “the experiment was an important step forward in creating a viable interface between the nervous system and prosthetic limbs,” Ariel David writes for the Associated Press, “the challenge now is ensuring that such a system can remain in the patient for years and not just a month.”

Background: Advances in brain-wave technology and prosthetic arms

Several recent advances have been made in brain-wave technology. In June, Toyota unveiled a brain-machine interface that enables subjects to control a wheelchair using only their brains. Advances in motorized artificial limbs have also been made: In April, “60 Minutes” covered the Pentagon’s program, “Revolutionizing Prosthetics,” reporting on the DEKA arm and another robotic arm, controlled by thought, still in the works.

In 2008, a company in North Carolina, Tackle Design, focused on leading a worldwide collaborative effort to refine prosthetic arms and hands through the use of open-source technology. The company created a Web site where people could share ideas about improving prosthetic devices for arms and hands.

Related Topic: “The Six Million Dollar Man”

“Gentlemen, we can rebuild him. We have the technology. We have the capability to build the world’s first bionic man.” So went the opening narration to the TV show, “The Six Million Dollar Man.” The show told the story of pilot Steve Austin who was nearly killed in a plane crash. The U.S. government decides to “rebuild” Austin and replaces his most damaged parts—his right arm, left eye and both legs—with bionic limbs.

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