Today’s Solutions: April 20, 2024

In a major step toward making prosthetic limbs more genuine, researchers created MiniTouch, a gadget that allows amputees to feel temperature through their prosthetic limbs. This invention is an important step toward providing prosthetic users with a more natural and integrated experience.

Introducing: MiniTouch

MiniTouch, developed by a team at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne, is a pioneering technology that has the potential to transform the area of prosthetics. Professor Solaiman Shokur, a senior author of the study, underlines the relevance of temperature in providing a natural sensation for prosthesis users. “To give a natural sensation, you cannot do it without temperature,” he goes on to say.

How does the MiniTouch work?

The concept builds on previous research showing that an amputated hand can be perceived as warm or cool. The MiniTouch has a temperature sensor on the prosthetic hand that is deliberately situated to correspond with the phantom thermal sensations. When the sensor detects a temperature change, it sends a signal to a controller, which reproduces the temperature on the amputee’s skin.

Testing the water

To evaluate MiniTouch’s effectiveness, the researchers tested it on Fabrizio, a 57-year-old amputee. Fabrizio demonstrated outstanding precision in identifying temperatures and materials with MiniTouch. When blindfolded, he correctly selected bottles of cold, hot, or room-temperature water. He also effectively distinguished between slabs of copper, glass, and plastic, demonstrating the device’s adaptability.

Beyond temperature: a multisensory future

While MiniTouch focuses on temperature, the researchers envision a future in which prosthesis users can feel a wide range of sensations. Professor Silvestro Micera, another senior author of the research, discusses their aspirations to develop a single wearable device that provides a variety of sensations such as pressure, texture, location, temperature, and moisture. This represents a significant step toward providing prosthetic users with a more complete sensory experience.

Accessibility and affordability

One of the most notable qualities of MiniTouch is its usability. The gadget does not require surgery and uses readily available electronics, making it easily adaptable to existing prosthetics. This not only improves accessibility but also provides a reasonably priced solution for amputees.

Incorporating sensations into prosthetics

As the researchers intend to improve MiniTouch’s capabilities, they underline the necessity for additional testing with a larger sample of patients. Dr. Sigrid Dupan, an expert in sensory feedback for prostheses, appreciates the advances but warns of the problems of integrating such devices into the healthcare system on a big scale. “People can’t expect the implementation of these new devices into our healthcare system in a short timeframe,” she said.

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