19 July 2012

A touchy feely artificial finger

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Performing surgery remotely has, until now, produced good results. Now, adding a layer of sophistication to the process, researchers are developing an artificial finger capable of giving sensory feedback

An artificial finger could benefit patients with a missing finger in many ways. The most obvious, would be to add sensory feedback to their prosthesis. In addition, remote surgery could also benefit from a well-functioning artificial finger. Thus, a surgeon in, say,  France could examine a patient in Nigeria and get an authentic feel, almost as if they were in the same location.

A European research consortium is working on an artificial finger in the EU funded project Nanobiotact (Nano-engineering biomimetic tactile sensors). Together they are combining expertise in material science, neurology, nanotechnology and robotics.

Their artificial finger will mimic the dynamics, sensitivity and spatial resolution of human tactile neural sensors found in our finger pads through biomimetic sensors. These are very small silicon devices that create electrical signals from tactile forces.

The ultimate aim of the project is make an artificial finger that could give sensory feedback through connection with the central nervous system. This would require an in-depth study of human mechanoreceptors. In addition, gaining an understanding of the coding mechanism in the nervous system  for sensing would also be key. Finally, a computer linked to the sensors will behave similar to our brain through interpretation of hundreds of very complex signals.

 

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