Student team seeks to improve sensory feedback in prosthetics
Mark Atwater posted on April 21, 2014 |

Prosthetics, and the technology behind them, have been advancing rapidly in recent years. An example of this is the fitting of prosthetics, which might be perceived as a fairly simple task, but getting it right can be greatly enhanced by a customized engineering effort. Despite improvements on a number of fronts, it remains very difficult to replicate the sensory experience of a limb. That’s where a group of Rice University students are looking to help.

The goal was to improve the control and feedback for those using a prosthetic hand. The amount of force the user applies to delicate objects may be too great, or when they believe they have applied enough force to heavier objects, it may be too little. Broken and dropped objects should not be a norm for these individuals.

Getting it just right takes experience, but experience takes time. A solution to the problem comes from five Rice University engineering students which form the team, “Magic Touch.” Working for months on the project, they came up with a way to use natural sensation to provide the necessary feedback.

The device works by progressively applying pressure to the prosthetic’s arm band when the hand closes on an object. As the grip gets tighter, the pressure on the arm increases, allowing a direct impression of the grip strength being applied.

The team was part of the 2014 Engineering Design Showcase at Rice University where they presented their project, “Proprioceptive Feedback for an Enhanced Prosthetic Limb.” The event, held last week, brought in 85 teams and a wide variety of projects. The teams and projects can be found here.

Unfortunately, team Magic Touch didn’t take home the $5,000 top prize. They did manage to secure the Students’ Choice Award, however. The top prize went to DeXcellence for their motion-capture device for cerebral palsy patients.

Some major breakthroughs have emerged in prosthetics, but there are still numerous details to work out. These are no small details to the many users of these devices, so it is all the more important to engineer better solutions sooner than later.

 

Image courtesy of prostheticarms.wordpress.com

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