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Recently, scientists successfully tested new neuroprosthetic technology, which combines robotic control with users’ voluntary control. Their research has thus helped make valuable progress in the novel interdisciplinary field of shared control for neuroprosthetic technologies.

The study involved the development of new and refined approaches for improved control of robotic hands, particularly for amputees: combining individual finger control and automation for improved grasping and manipulation. The technology is said to merge two concepts from two different fields and is thus viewed as a novel approach contributing to the emerging field of ‘shared control in neuroprosthetics’. One concept is concerned with deciphering intended finger movement from muscular activity on the amputee’s stump for individual finger control of the prosthetic hand. The other, allows the robotic hand to help take hold of objects and maintain contact with them for robust grasping.

The technology’s algorithm first ‘learns how to decode user intention’, translating this into finger movement of the prosthetic hand. To do this, the amputee is required to perform a series of hand movements as to train the algorithm which uses machine learning. Sensors, which are placed on the amputee's stump detect muscular activity, and the algorithm can hence learn which hand movements correspond to which patterns of muscular activity. Once the user's intended finger movements are adequately understood, this information can be used to control individual fingers of the prosthetic hand. Further, the algorithm is engineered so that robotic automation will kick in when the user tries grasping an object. The algorithm essentially ‘tells’ the prosthetic hand to close its fingers when an object is in contact with sensors on the surface of the prosthetic hand.

Applicants for Engineering, such as those with a keen interest in neuroengineering and robotics, can reflect on such novel developments, considering how the usability of such devices can help to significantly enhance the lives of specific individuals in societies.

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