Tag Archives: prostethic hand

Researchers fit Italian woman with futuristic, bionic hand

Almerina Mascarello lost her hand in a work accident — in July 1993, her hand was crushed by an industrial press. After almost 25 years, her luck completely changed.

An extraordinary fortunate event

 “I was flicking through a magazine on invalidity when I noticed a page asking people to undergo a test for a prosthesis. The Gemelli doctor phoned me a year later and asked me if I would like to be a guinea pig for a bionic hand“, she told ANSA.

“I said I would think about it and I said yes in May of last year. I went to Rome for the operation in June”Mascarello added.

Via Pixabay/Tumisu

The prosthetic — named LifeHand2 — was engineered by a team led by Silvestro Micera, from Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna in Pisa and the École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne. Neurologist Paolo Maria Rossini’s team from Rome’s Policlinico Gemelli Hospital did the medical work.

How the hand works

The medical team inserted hair-thin electrodes into Almerina’s upper arm nerves. These electrodes conduct sensorial information from the hand to a computer in a backpack. The computer translates the gathered info into a language the brain can understand. Basically, the computer transmits to the upper arm nerves electrical signals, telling the brain the consistency and shape of the object.


Almerina Mascarello opening a water bottle with the help of her new bionic hand. Credit: Youtube / Euronews.

A similar version of the bionic hand was priorly used by Danish patient Dennis Aabo Sorensen, who lost his hand in 2004 due to a firework explosion. His bionic hand was so sensitive that he was able to determine the consistency of different objects in 78 percent of cases. In 88 percent of cases, he could distinguish between a baseball, a glass, and a tangerine.

Credit: Youtube / Euronews.

The bionic hand is sophisticated enough to relay texture. Credit: Youtube / Euronews.

However, Mascarello’s implant and annexes were adjusted to fit into a backpack, unlike Sorensen’s. The bioengineering team’s goal is to create a hand prosthesis that has all the necessary components built in, miniaturizing the electronics as much as possible.

“We are going more and more in the direction of science fiction movies, like Luke Skywalker’s bionic hand in Star Wars – a fully controlled, fully natural, sensorized prosthesis, identical to the human hand.” lead researcher Micera told the BBC.

Sadly, Mascarello had to give up her prosthesis for further research. She felt like she was complete after 24 years, gathering joy from all the small things, like being able to tie her own shoes or dress alone. Unfortunately, only the research project is completed will she receive her own prosthetic hand.

“Now I’m eagerly awaiting them to call me and tell me it’s ready”, she stated.

Robotic third arm puts your drumming into overdrive…kinda

The focus of prosthetics these days is, understandably, restoring ability, function and form to those who have lost a limb. But the same technology can be used to augment a healthy body, allowing a person to perform tasks outside of our body’s limitations.

Yes you heard me right: prosthetics can give you the power you need to finally become a super-villain.

This robotic arm was originally designed to enable a drummer who had lost an arm to play again.

In 2012, Jason Barnes was cleaning an exhaust duct on the roof a restaurant when he was electrocuted by 22,000 volts of electricity from several high voltage lines. He lost his right hand, and while he was able to continue drumming with a simple prosthetic drumstick he designed and built himself, it wasn’t very precise or easy to use. With this barrier, it seemed like his dream of becoming a professional drummer might not be possible.

Cue Gil Weinberg, professor of musical technology at Georgia Tech who built the robotic arm you see in this video to allow Jason to truly play again.

Weinberg, who had already put together a robotic percussionist and marimba player, built something more than an arm for Jason. The limb he designed can either follow the drummer’s instructions, or play along independently, creating its own music.

“Jason can pull the robotic stick away from the drum when he wants to be fully in control,” says Weinberg. “Or he can allow it to play on its own and be surprised and inspired by his own arm responding to his drumming.”

The headband you see on the user here is an electroencephalograph which is meant to enable him to control the mechanical limb — sadly that part isn’t functional yet. Instead, the arm is drumming along merrily with some awareness of what that guy is doing — it listens and tries to play along, to the best of its binary abilities.

“The robotic arm is smart for a few reasons. First, it knows what to play by listening to the music in the room. It improvises based on the beat and rhythm. For instance, if the musician plays slowly, the arm slows the tempo. If the drummer speeds up, it plays faster,” Georgia Tech explains.

“Another aspect of its intelligence is knowing where it’s located at all times, where the drums are, and the direction and proximity of the human arms. When the robot approaches an instrument, it uses built-in accelerometers to sense the distance and proximity. On-board motors make sure the stick is always parallel to the playing surface, allowing it to rise, lower or twist to ensure solid contact with the drum or cymbal. The arm moves naturally with intuitive gestures because it was programmed using human motion capture technology.”

The robot arm will respond to human gestures — if the drummer reaches for the snare, the robot will shift over to the ride cymbal. If the drummer then decides to play the instrument, the arm with shift to the high hat cymbal, and so on.

Well, it seems that in this field your choices of villain repertoire are a bit limited right now, unless you plan to enslave humanity with drumming. But a big shout out to all the guys and gals over at Georgia Tech for reminding us that a prosthesis — something we’re used to associate with injury, loss, and suffering — can be light-hearted, fun, and awesome; and for showing us that we’re quickly reaching a point in time where not our bodies, but our imagination, will be our only limiting factor.