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i-Robot: A new approach to robotics to make our life easier and safer, Part 10

Robotics technology is powered from electronics technology to realize systems that can dramatically improve the life of patients with special needs. Such needs like Almerina Mascarello, who was the first Italian patient to receive an artificial bionic hand implant. This device enabled her to feel sensations like heat, cold, and roughness, just like a normal human hand (see Figure 1):

“Scientists have unveiled the first bionic hand with a sense of touch that can be worn outside the laboratory. Almerina Mascarello's bionic hand provides sensory feedback to her brain via electrodes in her upper arm. She lost her hand in an accident nearly 25 years ago” . (Source: BBC)

Figure 1

The principle of functioning of the bionic hands with sense of touch is the base of a system which can feel stimuli: the role of electronics components like sensors and actuators is a key part of this innovative solution. (Source: BBC)

The principle of functioning of the bionic hands with sense of touch is the base of a system which can feel stimuli: the role of electronics components like sensors and actuators is a key part of this innovative solution. (Source: BBC)

The surgery was performed at the Agostino Gemelli University Polyclinic, Rome in June 2016 and from that day, this woman has felt the sensations of a normal hand again; this has been certified by Numerous tests. (see Figure 2)

Figure 2

The bionic hand can feel the shape and the consistency of the objects it is touching and to perceive the stimuli as well. (Source:  QUOTIDIANO.NET)

The bionic hand can feel the shape and the consistency of the objects it is touching and to perceive the stimuli as well. (Source: QUOTIDIANO.NET)

Electronics technology is supporting this type of innovative solution to help patients recover their quality of life after they have lost an essential function like the use of one hand. Amazingly, an artificial skin, made with silicon sensors, has been produced by a company, QUOTIDIANO.NET MC10, in collaboration with a group of Korean scientists. (see Figure 3):

“An artificial skin that wraps around a prosthetic hand and senses touch and warmth has been developed using traditional electronics. The flexible sensors array was demonstrated in a rat model, where signals were transmitted and sensed in the brain. Many robots and prosthetic limbs have been created, but their skins cannot sense their environment. This new stretchable prosthetic skin comes equipped with ultra-thin, single crystalline silicon nanoribbon sensors for strain, pressure and temperature, as well as humidity sensors, heaters and stretchable multi-electrode arrays for nerve stimulation. The skin is tuned to stretch as befits its location on the prosthetic. The group says that their design can dramatically boost perception capabilities in changing environments. Integration of stretchable humidity sensors and heating elements allows for the sensation of skin moisture and body temperature regulation, respectively.” (Source: Chemistry World)

Figure 3

The artificial skin can boost the prosthetic hand capability to feel stimuli 
(Source: Chemistry World)

The artificial skin can boost the prosthetic hand capability to feel stimuli (Source: Chemistry World)

The effectiveness of this type of solution is deeply related to the reliability and the accuracy of the sensors (see Figure 4):

Figure 4

The block diagram of the HTS221, an integrated humidity sensor made by STMicroelectronics (Source: st.com)

The block diagram of the HTS221, an integrated humidity sensor made by STMicroelectronics (Source: st.com)

A prior experiment of bionic hand implantation was done on a Danish patient but the volume of the equipment needed to power the bionic hand was much too large for a patient to use outside the laboratory. The implant we are discussing in this blog is the first case of practical utilization of the hand for the everyday life because the circuitry is now enclosed in a bag that the woman carries with her. The next step is the integration of all the electronic sensors inside the bionic hand, that will create a true replacement of the lost hand.

Robotics is a promising technology that can dramatically improve the quality of life of patients who need artificial limbs to recover their normal daily activity. Do you think it will be an effective solution in the near future?

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