For the sake of keeping costs low, many prosthetics sacrifice appearance for function, or vice versa, depending on the user and the purpose of the device. A prosthesis just unveiled by researchers at UOW in Australia is therefore somewhat remarkable: the soft robotic hand has a surface texture just like human skin, and can be controlled with brain signals thanks to its myoelectric construction. It was developed by a team that included Professor Gursel Alici (lead researcher) and Dr Rahim Mutlu, and was unveiled at an international electromaterials symposium at the university’s Innovation Campus today. The arm responds to signals from the brain through an interface attached to arm muscles, allowing users of the device to move the prosthetic as though it were part of their body.
“The hand is one of the most important parts of our body: it’s the most significant interface between a person and their environment,” Alici said. “We have used the progress in smart, functional materials to create a robotic hand that has a better interface and interaction with the environment and allows the user to make more lifelike movements.”
The researchers behind the new prosthetic hand say that 3D printing and other advanced production equipment allowed them to create a prosthesis that is soft to the touch but also strong enough to carry heavy objects—despite being incredibly lightweight and requiring little power. 3D printing also allowed the hand to be printed as a complete piece, rather than in several parts that would produce unsightly seams once assembled. The same technique could also be applied to bionic ears, cartilage, and corneal regeneration.