Researchers from the Faculty of Engineering and Computer Science at Florida Atlantic University, USA, have designed a new wearable mechanical armband capable of transmitting, in real time, various types of artificial touch sensations to users of robotic hands.
Myoelectric prosthetic hands manufactured today allow control of only one gripping function at a time. Although the most modern artificial hands are mechanically efficient at individually controlling all five digits, they are incapable of performing this task with two different objects at the same time.
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“Our results show that the use of multiple haptic feedback channels allows individuals to successfully pick up and transport two objects simultaneously with the artificial hand without breaking or dropping them, even when the view of both objects is obstructed.” mechanical engineering professor Erik Engeberg, the study’s lead author.
The clamp used to increase tactile feedback has been equipped with soft actuators that convey the proportional sensation of contact forces. Vibrotactile stimulators help indicate whether objects being transported have been broken or remain intact.
Haptic feedback has been added in three locations corresponding to the thumb, index and little finger, enough to convey the amplitudes of forces applied to both objects gripped by the hand, making the sensory experience of touch much closer to reality.
“Our study is the first to demonstrate the feasibility of this complex task of simultaneous control by integrating multiple haptic feedback channels non-invasively. None of the participants had significant prior use of myoelectric artificial hands, but they were able to learn to take advantage of this multitasking functionality after just two training sessions,” adds Engeberg.
more natural footprint
To test the multifunctional control system, the researchers used a card pinched between the index and middle fingers of the robotic hand, while the thumb and little finger were used to unscrew the cap of a water bottle.
In another example, they used their robotic hand to grab a ball using just three fingers, while their pinky finger was assigned to flip a light switch. In both cases, the user maintained precise control of the movements, without dropping the ball or denting the card.
“The information discovered in our study can be used in future structures for highly complex bimanual operations — such as those required of surgeons and guitarists — to allow amputees to pursue their careers and recreational activities as naturally as possible using prosthetic hands,” predicts the study. Professor Erik Engeberg.