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Researchers have been looking at using spinal nerve signals to control robotic prosthetics

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The world of robotic prosthetics can be complex. With continuing developments in technology, it is an ever changing area, but any advances that help people to regain their independence and a better quality of life are welcomed.

Traditionally, robotic prosthetics are controlled using muscles that remain in the amputated limb following surgery. Twitching the remnant muscles controls the prosthetic and results in basic functionality, such as simple grasping commands.

However, researchers have been looking at using spinal nerve signals to control robotic prosthetics. This developing technology is able to detect signals from the central nervous system so people will be able to use prosthetics in much the same way as someone imagining to use a phantom arm.

The technology works by interpreting electrical signals from the spinal motor neurones which are then translated into commands for the prosthetic. These commands can be such things as pinching two fingers together, which would not be achievable with a standard robotic prosthetic.

The research has been undertaken with six volunteers who had undergone an amputation from the shoulder down or just above the elbow. It was found that they had much more control of the prosthetics and were able to make a more extensive range of movements when compared to research undertaken on muscle-controlled prosthetics.

Commands that they could undertake included moving the elbow joints, moving the wrist side to side and opening and closing the hand.

Professor Farina, one of the lead researchers commented, “When an arm is amputated the nerve fibres and muscle are also severed, which means that it is very difficult to get meaningful signals from them to operate a prosthetic. We’ve tried a new approach, moving the focus from muscles to the nervous system. This means that our technology can detect and decode signals more clearly, opening up the possibility of robotic prosthetics that could be far more intuitive and useful for patients. It is a very exciting time to be in this field of research.”

Although further testing and refinement research still needs to take place, the potential for these robotic prosthetics being readily available in the near future is high. This would improve the extent of mobility for people after an arm amputation to near basic hand and arm functionality of a real arm.

At CFG Law, we are always interested to hear about new and exciting research surrounding amputations and prosthetics. Any technology that can be implemented to improve mobility and functionality for people following an amputation is good news, especially the research here which has untold potential.

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