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Southampton scientists develop new 'senses' for artificial hands

Published: 
18 February 2003

Up to the last few decades, individuals who lost upper limbs had to settle for artificial hands with only a single degree of movement, which were the only products available on the market. Now, thanks to research being carried out by scientists at the University of Southampton, artificial hands of the future will be lighter, have a much closer resemblance to the human hand, and have multiple sensors which will allow the wearer to monitor force, pressure, slippage and temperature.

Dr Paul Chappell of the University of Southampton's Department of Electronics and Computer Science, has spent several years developing the 'Southampton Hand'. His research has indicated that there is considerable room for development with existing artificial hands as they do not allow for monitoring of grip or slippage. Increasing the number of grasping patterns and improving the sensory feedback from an object in the hand have become key objectives of his research.

"The last few decades have produced significant improvements in the design of upper limb prostheses," comments Dr Chappell. "But they are still very limited in terms of sensory touch and movement."

Dr Chappell is working with Professor Neil White, who also works in the University's Department of Electronics and Computer Science, and whose work on developing sensors for the electronics industry has enabled him to develop multiple sensors to apply to the Southampton Hand to increase the functional grasping patterns. He is using piezo-electric devices to monitor, force, pressure, slippage and temperature.

"We need multiple sensors in a hand to mimic the natural processes as far as possible," comments Professor White. "In the past, cost has been an issue in the development of prosthetic limbs, particularly upper limbs, but we have found a way to add multiple senses using low cost technology."

Dr Colin Light and Dr Chappell have developed the lightweight, flexible Southampton-Remedi Hand. The researchers will now embark on a three-year period to investigate novel sensors for these hands, supported by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.

Notes for editors

The University of Southampton is a leading UK teaching and research institution with a global reputation for leading-edge research and scholarship. The University, which celebrated its Golden Jubilee in 2002, has 20,000 students and over 4,500 staff and plays an important role in the City of Southampton. Its annual turnover is in the region of £235 million.

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