Engineering Future Bionics
Newcastle University engineers are developing new prosthetic limbs to empower people's lives
There are over three million people living with upper-limb loss worldwide. Current prosthetic hands are controlled via myoelectric signals – that is electrical activity of the muscles recorded from the skin surface of the stump. Controlling them takes practice, concentration and, crucially, time.
Led by Dr Kianoush Nazarpour, Reader in Biomedical Engineering, Newcastle University’s biomedical engineers are leading the way in the area of high-impact upper-limb prosthetics research, improving the design and effectiveness of existing bionic hands.
An example of the team’s work is the globally unique ‘hand that sees’. They have developed a bionic hand fitted with a camera that 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. Using neural networks – the basis for Artificial Intelligence – the computer was shown numerous images of objects and taught to recognise the ‘grip’ needed for different objects. The project won a Netexplo UNESCO Award in February 2018 and the IET William James Award.
The team’s work, funded by a Healthcare Technology Challenge Award (2018–2023) from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), aims to develop novel algorithms and electronic technologies to utilise the flexibility of the brain in learning new skills.
A number of amputees have already trialled these innovations at Newcastle University. The team are working with experts at Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust to test the ‘hand that sees’ and other methods with NHS patients.
Dr Kianoush Nazarpour
Dr Kianoush Nazarpour is Reader in Biomedical Engineering in the School of Engineering, with secondary affiliation to the Institute of Neuroscience. His work combines analytical and experimental techniques to develop novel signal processing algorithms to understand how the brain learns to control limb movement.
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