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Southampton researchers develop 'clever' hand

Published: 11 December 2006

Researchers at the University of Southampton have built a prototype of a prosthetic hand with some of the functionality and movement of a real one.

Just 12 months after the 'Southampton Remedi-Hand' was lost in the fire which destroyed the University's Mountbatten building, Professor Neil White, Dr Paul Chappell, Dr Andy Cranny and Darryl Cotton at the University's School of Electronics and Computer Science (ECS) have come up with a new 'hand' which not only mimics the motion of a human hand, but also has 'senses'.

Dr Chappell has spent several years developing the 'Southampton Remedi-Hand'. Increasing the number of grasping patterns and improving the sensory feedback from an object in the hand became key objectives of his research.

"The last few decades have produced significant improvements in the design of upper limb prostheses," comments Dr Chappell. "But up to now, there have been limits in terms of sensory touch and movement."

Professor White's work on developing sensors for the electronics industry has enabled him to develop multiple sensors to apply to the 'hand' to increase the functional grasping patterns.

"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."

The researchers have applied piezo-electric sensors to each of the five fingertips which will detect how much force is being exerted on the tip and will translate this information into an electrical signal which will be fed to a small processor.

Dr Chappell said: "We have created a hand with increased functionality and with a sense of touch. This will let the hand know how tightly to grip an object like a coffee cup without dropping it, but not so tightly that it's crushed. It will also have an integrated slip-sensor which will tell the hand if something is beginning to slip out of its grip so it can grip slightly harder."

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