Smart Prosthetic Lets Man Feel Hot and Cold

A new device that makes it possible for a person with an amputation to sense temperature.

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The history of prosthetics begins in ancient Egypt. There are indications that the "Cairo toe" is more than just a cosmetic deformity. The wood-and-leather digit was made to be flexible even 3,000 years ago, indicating that it served a purpose in addition to being aesthetically pleasing.

Since then, a lot of effort has gone into coming up with creative ways to make the lives of those who have had amputations better. Engineers started adding wires, gears, and springs to prostheses as early as the 15th century to allow users to grab objects and bend joints, albeit in a restricted way. Prosthetics were designed to carry out particular functions, including playing the piano or shield-holding. Additionally, they become increasingly accustomed to handling the materials of discovery, such as rubber, polymers, and thin metals.

Now, a team of researchers in Italy and Switzerland have developed a new device that makes it possible for a person with an amputation to sense temperature with a prosthetic hand. The advancement of technology is a step toward the creation of prosthetic limbs that fully restore a person's senses, increasing their utility and acceptance by the wearer, reports Science News.

The device, dubbed "MiniTouch," was affixed to the prosthetic hand of a 57-year-old man named Fabrizio who had his wrist amputated above. The researchers were based in Switzerland and Italy. In experiments, the guy demonstrated perfect accuracy in identifying cold, cool, and hot bottles of liquid; much greater accuracy than chance in distinguishing between plastic, glass, and copper; and approximately 75% accuracy in sorting steel blocks according to temperature.

The prosthetic works by applying heat or cold to the skin on the upper arm in specific locations that trigger a thermal sensation in the phantom hand.

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“In a previous study, we have shown the existence of these spots in the majority of amputee patients that we have treated,” says Solaiman Shokur at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne.

Fidati was also able to accurately identify glass, copper, and plastic by touch when wearing a prosthetic, with a precision of slightly over two-thirds, exactly like he could with his unharmed left hand.

In a different, recently published study, Shokur and his associates demonstrated that individuals with amputations who use prosthetics that sense temperature can distinguish between moist and dry objects.

“We could provide a wetness sensation to amputees and… they were as good at detecting different levels of moisture as with their intact hands,” says Shokur.

Sam Draper
March 11, 2024

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