Current prostheses allow individuals who have lost a hand to grasp and hold objects, but regaining their sense of touch has been out of the question. But a new robotic hand is giving its wearers a new tactile sensation.
A team of scientists in Italy and Sweden have been developing a sophisticated robotic hand, with fingertip sensors that feed directly into the arm's nerves. The overall look of the hand may be more like Nina Sharp's in Fringe than Luke Skywalker's in The Empire Strikes Back, but it does allow the wearer to actually feel the objects the hand touches. Just as the brain transmits data to robotic limbs — ordering them to grasp and release — so do the receptors feed data back to the brain. It not only returns to the wearer the sensation that they had lost, it likely also makes grabbing and manipulating objects an easier and more precise task.
You can see the robotic hand in action below, as a 22 year-old who lost his hand to cancer tries out the hand and its sensitive fingertips for the first time: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X85Lpuczy3E