A robotic arm allows amputees to touch and feel objects again by using the power of thought to control it.
The high-tech prosthetic, developed by the University of Utah, uses microwires implanted under the skin, which send signals to an external computer that tells the arm to move.
The arm even has sensors that transmit signals to the microwires, mimicking the feeling of the hand when it grabs something.
This allows users to ‘feel’ objects being held so the brain knows not to cause the prosthetic hand too squeeze too tightly.
Fascinating video shows real estate agent Keven Walgamott, who lost his hand and part of his arm in an accident, able to pluck grapes and hold eggs without crushing them – and even put on his wedding ring.
The prosthetic arm (pictured above) uses wires implanted under the arm that connect to a computer, which signals the arm to move. Sensors on the hand send signals to the wires, which replicate the feeling of clasping an object
Video shows amputee Keven Walgamott (pictured), who lost his left hand in an accident, able to pick grapes without crushing them and hold an egg without cracking it
The prosthetic is known as the LUKE Arm after Luke Skywalker, who receives a robotic arm after getting his own chopped off in a battle in Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back.
‘We changed the way we are sending that information to the brain so that it matches the human body,’ said Dr Gregory Clark, an associate professor of biomedical engineering at the University of Utah.
‘And by matching the human body, we were able to see improved benefits. We’re making more biologically realistic signals.’
The LUKE Arm is made of motors with a clear silicon ‘skin’ so it resembles a human hand. It is powered with an external battery and connected to a computer.
Microelectrodes and wires are implanted into the part of the arm where nerves remain.
These send digital signals to a computer – creating a connection with the brain – which then tells the arm to move, much like the human brain normally would.
But to perform tasks like picking things up and how much pressure to put on those objects, the process is a bit different.
The team made mathematical calculations and models of impulses from a primate’s arm, which was used for the LUKE Arm.
The LUKE Arm is named Luke Skywalker, who receives a robotic arm in Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back. Pictured: Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker in Return of the Jedi
From there, the arm has sensors in the hand which send signals to the wires and microelectrodes, replicating the feeling of clasping an object.
‘Just providing sensation is a big deal, but the way you send that information is also critically important,’ said Dr Clark.
‘If you make it more biologically realistic, the brain will understand it better and the performance of this sensation will also be better.’
Walgamott who lost his left hand and part of his arm in an electrical accident 17 years ago, was one of seven subjects who tried the arm during clinical tests.
‘It almost put me to tears,’ he said. ‘It was really amazing. I never thought I would be able to feel in that hand again.’
Walgamott, a real estate agent, was able to pick grapes off a vine without squishing them, place an egg in a bowl without cracking it, and even feel sensation when he held his wife’s hand.
‘One of the first things he wanted to do was put on his wedding ring. That’s hard to do with one hand,’ said Dr Clark. ‘It was very moving.’
The University of Utah team says it is currently developing a version of the arm that is portable and wireless, meaning it would not need to be connected to an external computer.
Dr Clark said he hopes that by 2020 or 2021, provided the LUKE Arm is approved by the US Food and Drug Administration, that three subjects can take it home with them.