MiniTouch Offers Hope: Prosthetic Arm Provides Sense of Heat and Cold

Prosthetic advancements have come a long way, moving from basic artificial limb designs to more advanced sensory restoration, like the recent MiniTouch breakthrough.

Researchers from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology have created a remarkable technology that allows a prosthetic hand to sense temperature, giving users a feeling similar to having a natural hand.

This new system, MiniTouch, works by tapping into a phenomenon called “phantom heat.” It tricks the brain into thinking the prosthetic’s surface feels like natural skin without needing any extra surgery or implants.

Phantom heat happens when an amputee feels temperatures on their remaining limb as if it were coming from the missing part, much like how they might feel phantom touches. This sensation is familiar among amputees, experienced by about 80% of them.

MiniTouch uses temperature sensors on the prosthetic hand’s fingertips, connected to a controller and a special pad. This pad adjusts its temperature to match what the sensors detect, giving the user the feeling of warmth or coldness.

Solaiman Shokur, the lead scientist behind MiniTouch, explains that the sensation of touching different materials often depends on how they feel regarding temperature.

MiniTouch can recreate sensations similar to natural touch by mimicking these temperature properties. Shokur suggests phantom heat occurs because nerves continue developing after amputation, and the brain still processes signals from the missing limb.

To test MiniTouch, researchers had an amputee volunteer try different tasks using the prosthetic hand. Impressively, the volunteer could accurately tell the difference between hot, cold, and room-temperature objects and identify materials like glass, copper, and plastic.

MiniTouch is a big step forward in prosthetic technology, restoring lost sensations for amputees. Shokur envisions using it alongside other prosthetic devices, although it must still be ready for commercial use. However, the technology has been patented and has attracted the interest of industry players.

Future versions of MiniTouch aim to add more sensory abilities. Recent research has shown that it can even detect moisture levels. By expanding its capabilities, MiniTouch promises to improve the lives of amputees by giving them a more natural experience with their prosthetic limbs.

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