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Swedish cyborg gets haptic hand

'Perfectly good nerve endings' plugged in once again

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Boffins in Israel and the EU have fitted a Swedish man with a robotic hand which has a two-way hookup to the nerves in his arm: not only can he operate the hand as if it were his own, he can feel with it too.

The SmartHand cyber-appendage developed by EU and Israeli boffins. Credit: AFTAU

Touchy-feely technology.

"I grab something hard, and then I can feel it in the fingertips, which is strange, as I don't have them anymore. It's amazing," says Robin af Ekenstam.

The device, dubbed "SmartHand", apparently contains four motors and forty sensors and can do everything that a normal hand can in terms of articulation, gripping etc. However, such machinery is fairly commonplace; what makes the SmartHand special is the linkage to the nerves in Ekenstam's stump.

"Perfectly good nerve endings remain at the stem of a severed limb," says Professor Yosi Shacham-Diamand of Tel Aviv Uni, one of the boffins behind the mechanoid appendage. "Our team is building the interface between the device and the nerves in the arm, connecting cognitive neuroscience with state-of-the-art information technologies."

Prof Shacham-Diamand, according to TAU spokespersons, runs "one of the top labs in the world for nano-bio-interfacing science", and the special nerve hookup tech is his and his team's contribution to the project.

"Our challenge," remarks the prof, "was to make an electrode that was not only flexible, but could be implanted in the human body and function properly for at least 20 years."

It's early days yet, but apparently Ekenstam is dead chuffed with his new robo-hand so far. It reportedly took very little training to learn how to use it.

In addition to the Tel Aviv lab crew, boffins in Italy, Denmark, Ireland, Iceland and Sweden contributed to the project. The plan is now to refine the tech - offering more sensory input, for instance - and then perhaps to apply it to other limbs.

The announcement from TAU can be read here. ®

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