We have heard of prosthetic limbs taking a leap with innovations such as sensing touch, texture, and temperature with other advanced functions. Now a team led by researchers at Johns Hopkins University is involved in inventing an electronic sleeve that will enable pain transmission to a prosthetic arm. This is a major breakthrough in the field of biomedical engineering.
Why would one with prosthetics want to feel the pain you say? Researchers involved in this project claim pain provides an essential protection mechanism for both the user and the prosthetic device. “If you think about how we humans use pain, it’s to protect our bodies, to prevent damage,” says Luke Osborn, a graduate student who co-authored a paper on the topic of prosthetics. When we think of it logically, pain provides caution and prevents us from further damage and the reflex is a reminder for protection from wounds, sharp objects and danger.
E-dermis, the electronic skin/sleeve, that covers the prosthetic hand, is comprised of a thin layer of rubber and fabric. It senses pain by distinguishing between a safe and unsafe object, for example, a sharp object vs a smooth object. After the response, reaction signals are converted to a series of electric pulses to the user’s brain. Any form of strain or touch-induced to the e-dermis is transmitted to the brain of the user through an electric nerve-stimulator embedded on the prosthetic arm. The experimental works are currently in full swings on an amputee who had lost his limbs in an accident 5 years ago.
Other than such cool features, the team plans on adding reflexes without human control, for example when the hand grasps something too sharp, the arms will release the object right away by opening the fingers first. The duration will be in 100 milliseconds which is the accurate speed of an average human reflex.
Here’s wishing the team good luck on their future innovations.