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Hand that sees UNESCO

Hand that sees scoops international award

Published on: 13 February 2018

A bionic hand that can ‘see’ objects and pick them up by itself has won a prestigious 2018 Netexplo UNESCO Award in Paris.

Selected from over 2,000 innovations from around the world, the ‘hand that sees’ has been given the award in recognition of its “potential to have a profound and lasting impact on society”.

Developed by biomedical engineers at Newcastle University, UK, the new generation of prosthetic limb allows the wearer to reach for objects automatically, without thinking, just like a real hand.

Funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), the bionic hand is fitted with a camera which instantaneously takes a picture of the object in front of it, assesses its shape and size and triggers a series of movements in the hand.

Bypassing the usual processes which require the user to see the object, physically stimulate the muscles in the arm and trigger a movement in the prosthetic limb, the hand ‘sees’ and reacts in one fluid movement.

A small number of amputees have already trialled the new technology and now the Newcastle University team are working with experts at Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust to offer the ‘hands with eyes’ to patients.

A new generation of prosthetic limbs which will allow the wearer to reach for objects automatically
Hand that sees

A hand which can respond automatically

Project lead Dr Kianoush Nazarpour, a Reader in Biomedical Engineering at Newcastle University, said:

“This has been a team effort and I am delighted that our technology has received this award.

“Responsiveness has been one of the main barriers to artificial limbs. For many amputees the reference point is their healthy arm or leg so prosthetics seem slow and cumbersome in comparison.

“Now, for the first time in a century, we have developed an ‘intuitive’ hand that can react without thinking.”

Netexplo is an independent observatory that studies the impact of digital tech on society and business. It has been a UNESCO partner since 2011.

In their award nomination, the Netexplo panel explain:

“This bionic hand goes one step further towards symbiotic collaboration between human intention and the technical efficiency of an artificial intelligence.

“The decision-making question is central here: the hand anticipates the grasp of an object even before the human formulates their intention. Beyond the obvious benefit for disabled people, an alternative application could interest industrial firms: the bionic hand could belong to an intelligent robot, capable of precise, smooth handling.”

Video: All-seeing hand

Artificial vision for artificial hands

Recent statistics show that in the UK there are around 600 new upper-limb amputees every year, of which 50% are in the age range of 15-54 years old. In the US there are 500,000 upper limb amputees a year.

Grouping objects by size, shape and orientation, according to the type of grasp that would be needed to pick them up, the team programmed the hand to perform four different ‘grasps’: palm wrist neutral (such as when you pick up a cup); palm wrist pronated (such as picking up the TV remote); tripod (thumb and two fingers) and pinch (thumb and first finger).

Ghazal Ghazaei, a PhD student involved in project, said: “We are now at the cusp of significantly improving the accuracy and responsiveness of the technology and the next generation of prosthetic limbs.”

Amputees and people with limb difference are being invited to contact the team if they are interested in joining the research project.

“Feedback from users is vital if we are to further enhance this system and we are extremely grateful to those who have taken part in the research so far,” says Dr Nazarpour.

To contact the team email

Video: Grasp classification in myoelectric hands

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