Scientists Develop ‘Ultra-Precise’ Prosthetic Hand That Uses Mind Control

A new robotic hand that allows the user to make movements in real time and use their mind to control even the tip of their fingers has been developed. Researchers described the technology as “the most advanced prosthetic control” in the world to date.

The prosthetic hand, described in the journal Science Translational Medicine, uses tiny muscle grafts and machine learning algorithms to tap into nerve endings for more precise control. Developers said the “ultra-precise” arm even allows users to play a version of Rock, Paper, Scissors.

“This is the biggest advance in motor control for people with amputations in many years,” Paul Cederna, professor of plastic surgery at the University of Michigan Medical School and a professor of biomedical engineering, said in a statement. “We have developed a technique to provide individual finger control of prosthetic devices using the nerves in a patient’s residual limb. With it, we have been able to provide some of the most advanced prosthetic control that the world has seen.”

In the lab, all participants used the prosthetic hand to pick up blocks with a pincer grasp and play “Rock, Paper, Pliers” and move their thumb in a continuous motion. One user said he felt like “you have a hand again” since the technology allowed them to do “anything you can do with a real hand.”

Researchers said the robotic arm works with tiny muscle grafts that give nerve endings in the body a megaphone. The grafts help send nerve signals to the prosthetic hand in real time.

Participants were able to make movements with the prosthetic hand on the first try just by thinking about it, according to Cindy Chestek, associate professor of biomedical engineering in the College of Engineering at the University of Michigan. 

She said the users did not take much time to learn how to use the new artificial arm. The algorithms used on the prosthetic helped them make quicker movements.

“So now we can access the signals associated with individual thumb movement, multi-degree of freedom thumb movement, individual fingers,” Chestek said. “This opens up a whole new world for people who are upper limb prosthesis users.”

The team also noted that their new robotic interface has already lasted years. Other existing interfaces degrade within months due to scar tissue.

Prosthetic Hand Joe Hamilton, a participant in the University of Michigan RPNI study, naturally uses his mind to control a DEKA prosthetic hand to pinch a small zipper on a hand development testing platform. Evan Dougherty/Michigan Engineering