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Health Tech: Breakthrough for Powered Prosthetics

Prosthetic arms can help patients regain independence. A new technology can give them even better control.

In Peter Pan, Captain Hook’s missing hand was replaced by a hook that provided limited functionality. Today, powered prosthetic hands and arms can give amputees much more independence. The brain/computer interfaces are constantly improving, giving them even better control.

Researchers at the University of Michigan have developed a new approach. They graft tiny bits of muscle tissue to small bundles of nerves. Machine learning algorithms then help map the brain’s impulses to the different nerve bundles, which can then be used to signal more parts of a powered prosthetic.

This new approach has made it possible for patients to control individual mechanical fingers and even move a mechanical thumb in multiple directions. The artificial intelligence system also reduces the amount of training that the patient needs. By knowing what the patient is trying to do, the system can map those nerve impulses to the desired reaction. Patients in initial trials were even able to grasp round objects. This research could lead to much better replacement limbs for amputees.

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Written by Alfred Poor

Alfred Poor is an "Into Tomorrow" Contributing Correspondent, health tech speaker, writer and the founding Editor of Health Tech Insider: a website and industry newsletter that covers wearable and mobile technology for health and medical applications. With more than 2,400 articles published on the site, he has a broad perspective of where the global industry stands today and where it’s headed... Into Tomorrow.

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