MIT’s mind-controlled prosthetic hand slips on like a glove

poster MIT neuroprosthetic glove

Prostheses are having a renaissance. Amputees with $10,000 or extra can strap on a mechanical hand that they’ll really management with their ideas, a lot like they’re utilizing a organic hand. However the {hardware} is heavy and robotic-looking, full of tiny motors and hinges out of The Terminator.

In the meantime, a new, milky-white prosthesis—developed by researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Shanghai Jiao Tong University—strikes with a mushy, natural grace, as if it’s straight out of Westworld’s opening credit. Your eyes aren’t deceiving you; it actually is a breakthrough, particularly because it prices a mere $500 to construct. And for the greater than 5 million individuals around the globe who’re higher limb amputees, meaning the worth of a brand-new hand may quickly be on par with a new iPhone. (Besides in contrast to an iPhone, you can run this hand over along with your automotive and it could nonetheless work.)

How is that this doable? As MIT professor Xuanhe Zhao, who led the analysis, explains, these are the kinds of advantages we are able to get from the sector of soppy robotics. In contrast to most robots—that are constructed from exhausting metals and plastics, laced with sophisticated mechanics and electronics—mushy robots are manufactured from versatile, spongy, and elastomeric parts. These supplies are a lot extra according to the way in which our pores and skin, muscle mass, and tendons work than exhausting titanium, which makes them good for rebuilding a human hand that’s versatile, robust, and mushy to the contact.


MIT’s prosthetic is made largely from silicon rubber that’s strengthened by a carbon fiber skeleton, in a design that intently resembles actual human anatomy. The hand strikes by means of pneumatics—principally, air inflates and deflates every finger like a advanced balloon animal—which cuts down on weight, mechanical complexity, and the sheer bulk of filling a hand with motors.

This softer hand has a softer contact. “With current prosthetic fingers . . . there’s at all times a threat of damaging one thing particularly fragile, like a glass of water,” says Zhao, who notes that the hand isn’t simply much less more likely to break issues but in addition to interrupt itself. This beefed-up rubber glove is sort of indestructible.

To maintain the hand mild, a small waistband holds the air pump system. As a consequence, this mushy hand is definitely a few grams lighter than a actual human hand . . . whereas a mechanical hand can weigh practically a pound, making it uncomfortable to put on for very lengthy. It’s straightforward to activate the pump. All it’s a must to do is consider shifting your hand, and your arm muscle mass will fireplace digital impulses. The {hardware} senses the impulses, turning on the pump, and your hand takes the right form.

This magic is because of the truth that sensors can now measure {the electrical} impulses in your arm muscle mass by means of electromyography, or EMG. Whereas mind-controlled limbs may nonetheless appear like the stuff of sci-fi, Zhao says this a part of the prosthetic system makes use of well-established expertise. After slipping the hand on, software program routinely prompts the person to consider a few particular gestures—like pinching at one thing small like a flower petal, or greedy one thing bigger like a soda can. As a result of most individuals have very comparable EMG readings for a majority of these duties, the hand can really learn the person’s thoughts. So in lower than two minutes, the hand syncs up with the physique’s personal wiring to acknowledge 5 widespread hand motions. To maneuver the hand, the person simply has to consider shifting it.

On the fingertips, tactile sensors permit a wearer to know if the hand is touching one thing. (It’s not doable for individuals to really really feel these robotic fingers, however a patch positioned on one’s higher arm vibrates to sign contact.)

Maybe none of those particular person improvements sounds all that spectacular on its personal, however when put collectively they add as much as a prosthetic hand that works and feels a lot like a actual human hand. You should use it to seize one thing as skinny and fragile as a potato chip, or grasp one other hand in a firm-but-safe handshake. By design, this rubbery, air-filled hand is of course compliant.

As for subsequent steps, Zhao would like to extend the velocity of the pneumatic motions (you may see a slight delay within the video, the place the wearer waits for his hand to meet up with his ideas) and allow extra number of hand motions. Then, he’d like to both begin his personal enterprise to provide these prostheses, or license the expertise for different firms to make use of.


“Our eventual objective is to profit hundreds of thousands of higher limb amputees,” says Zhao, noting that the hand’s $500 construct worth may democratize the expertise for a lot of the world, assuming a personal firm doesn’t stack an excessive amount of revenue on prime.