Sensory Feedback Systems
Our bodies rely on continual communication between our limbs and our mind in order to perform the required and intended movements with precision, dexterity, and coordination. New developments from the research and development team include a Sensory Feedback System, an effort to restore communication from the prosthesis to the amputee.
Sensors incorporated in the prosthesis respond proportionately to the environment and send signals to a microprocessor, which interprets the signals and in turn sends them to stimulators located on the skin of the patient’s residual limb. The mind of the patient interprets the sensations generated by the prosthesis, called cerebral projections, as if they were generated by their anatomical limb. In other words, the patients feel their residual limb as if it were actually reconnected to their body.
The Sensory Feedback System provides several benefits to the wearer. First and foremost, it provides the patient with sensory feedback, restoring the senses that were lost due to amputation. It enables the amputee to sense that the prosthesis is an extension of their own body, provides psychological benefits, and may significantly reduce phantom pain. Initial trials with the system are providing fascinating results and clearly demonstrate the mind’s ability to sense touch at a distance from the body.
The described Sensory Feedback System is currently being developed at our facility and has attracted national and international attention from the scientific community. Prosthetics of the future will definitely require communication between the body and the prosthesis, and we intend to lead innovation efforts to bring the necessary technology to establish communication to the practical arena within the next few years.
The more the human body and its many aspects including appearance, control systems, and biomechanical movements can be mimicked, the more functional, safe, and lifelike the amputee’s abilities will become. We believe the way to successfully mesh man and machine is incorporating computer-controlled prosthetics, which is currently a focus of our research. Using artificial intelligence with adaptive control algorithms, our designs allow the prosthesis to sense, think, and respond to the environment.
Our patented computer-controlled prosthetic joint designs employ a microprocessor that provides the appropriate biomechanical function, optimal resistance, and joint angle independent of gait speed and/or terrain. Computer-controlled systems improve the safety, symmetry, and functional abilities of the amputee and may be used on the majority of lower-extremity amputees, including below-knee, above-knee, and hip disarticulation levels.
Because of the advanced nature of the control program, computer-controlled designs are able to provide adaptations to the gait pattern as well as sensory feedback much like the human brain controls anatomical limbs. It is anticipated that this technology will become commercially available within the next two to three years.