The relationship between man, medicine and technology is making huge progress, one that has been made even bigger today. Doctors and researchers have joined forces at the University of Siena to develop the robotic sixth finger, an innovative prothesis that allows patients with missing hand function to grasp objects.
A symbol of Italian excellence
The robotic sixth finger is a prothesis that is able to adapt to the shape of any object, big or small, and can be controlled by an EMG interface that is worn on the wrist of the paretic limb. The project is the result of a joint effort made by the neurosciences and engineering departments at SibinLab, directed by Simone Rossi from the Department of Neurological and Neurosensorial Sciences at the Hospital-University of Siena, and experts from SirsLab, led by Domenico Prattichizzo from the Department of Engineering at the University of Siena. The robotic sixth finger received the Best Demonstration Award at the international “IEEE Haptics Symposium 2016” in Philadelphia, where experts in for human-computer interaction technology gather from all over the world.
The robotic sixth finger helps regain grasping capabilities
The robotic sixth finger, particularly useful for patients who have suffered a stroke or who suffer from other chronic disabling conditions, has a flexible structure that adapts to the shape of any grasped object. The device can be worn on the user’s forearm by means of an elastic band that is easy to put on and take off. It works together with the paretic limb, grasping objects as if the device and the hand, working together, were a two-finger gripper. The robotic sixth finger is still in the preliminary phases of research, but tests have shown that by wearing the device, patients are able to carry out simple tasks like opening a bottle and pouring a glass of water without asking for help.
Research projects for the future
Specialists at the University of Siena are currently working on many projects aimed at improving the lives of patients with chronic disabilities. In addition to the sixth robotic finger, researchers have also developed an ankle bracelet that helps people with Parkinson’s walk better by balancing their gait. Another innovative project includes the “Tactic Angel”, a remote guidance system that helps the visually impaired find their way to a location. An even more ambitious idea is the development of a sort of “touch-based Instagram”, that allows the visually impaired to transmit their emotions and improve their social sphere. Even though these projects may still seem futuristic, thanks to the efforts of doctors and researchers, it might not be too long before these devices become a part of our daily lives.
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