TIME robotics

New Technology Allows Amputee to Feel Objects with Artificial Hand

European researchers have created what they believe is the first hand prosthetic implant that would allow amputees to regain the sense of touch.

The research teams behind the bionic hand—cooperation of the École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne (EFPL) in Switzerland and the Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna (SSSA)—created a loop that allowed the robotic hand to rapidly communicate with the patient’s brain so he could feel and react in real time, the Associated Press reports.

Dennis Aabo Sorensen, a 36-year-old in Denmark, lost his left hand in a fireworks accident and volunteered to test the implant. For just one week—the duration of the trial—he was able to feel real-time sensations that he hadn’t felt in almost a decade. Sorensen could touch different objects, from a mandarin orange to some cotton, and intuitively tell if they were hard or soft, slim or round, and adjust his grasp depending on their feel.

“It was just amazing,” he told the AP. “It was the closest I have had to feeling like a normal hand.”

In recent years scientists have made great strides in the development of prosthetic limbs for amputees, but they’ve hit obstacles when trying to recreate the sensory feedback channel behind the sense of touch. While it will take years of additional research before an artificial hand that feels becomes a reality, the work behind this robotic hand is part of a major effort to create more usable prosthetics.

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