Italian researchers develop lighter, cheaper robotic hand

May 10, 2018 by Colleen Barry And Francesco Sportelli
Italian researchers develop lighter, cheaper robotic hand
Marco Zambelli wears his prosthetic hand during an interview with the Associated Press in Rome Thursday, May 10, 2018. An Italian government-funded research institute and prosthetic maker unveiled a new robotic hand that they say amputees to grip objects with more precision, and with a mechanical design that will significantly bring down the price of a myoeletric prosthetic hand. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)

Italian researchers on Thursday unveiled a new robotic hand they say allows users to grip objects more naturally and features a design that will lower the price significantly.

The Hennes robotic hand has a simpler mechanical design compared with other such myoelectric prosthetics, characterized by sensors that react to electrical signals from the brain to the muscles, said researcher Lorenzo De Michieli. He helped develop the hand in a lab backed by the Italian Institute of Technology and the INAIL state workers' compensation prosthetic center.

The Hennes has only one motor that controls all five fingers, making it lighter, cheaper and more able to adapt to the shape of objects.

"This can be considered low-cost because we reduce to the minimum the mechanical complexity to achieve, at the same time, a very effective grasp, and a very effective behavior of the prosthesis," De Michieli said. "We maximized the effectiveness of the prosthetics and we minimized the mechanical complexity."

They plan to bring it to market in Europe next year with a target price of around 10,000 euros ($11,900), about 30 percent below current market prices.

Arun Jayaraman, a robotic prosthetic researcher at the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab in Chicago, said the lighter design could help overcome some resistance in users to the myoelectric hands, which to date have been too heavy for some. Italian researchers say the Hennes weighs about the same as a human hand.

Italian researchers develop lighter, cheaper robotic hand
Marco Zambelli shows his prosthetic hand during an interview with the Associated Press in Rome Thursday, May 10, 2018. An Italian government-funded research institute and prosthetic maker unveiled a new robotic hand that they say amputees to grip objects with more precision, and with a mechanical design that will significantly bring down the price of a myoeletric prosthetic hand. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)

In the United States, many amputees prefer the much simpler hook prosthetic, which attaches by a shoulder harness, because it allows them to continue to operate heavy equipment, Jayaraman said.

Italian retiree Marco Zambelli has been testing the Hennes hand for the last three years. He lost his hand in a work accident while still a teenager, and has used a variety of prosthetics over the years. A video presentation shows him doing a variety of tasks, including removing bills from an automated teller machine, grasping a pencil and driving a stick-shift car.

"Driving, for example, is not a problem," Zambelli, 64, said, who has also learned to use a table knife. "Now I have gotten very good at it. I think anyone who's not looking with an expert eye would find it difficult to spot that it's an artificial hand."

About a dozen labs worldwide are working on improvements to the myoelectric prosthetic, with some focusing on touch, others on improving how the nervous system communicates with the prosthetic.

Italian researchers develop lighter, cheaper robotic hand
Marco Zambelli shows his prosthetic hand during an interview with the Associated Press in Rome Thursday, May 10, 2018. An Italian government-funded research institute and prosthetic maker unveiled a new robotic hand that they say amputees to grip objects with more precision, and with a mechanical design that will significantly bring down the price of a myoeletric prosthetic hand. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)

"Each group is giving baby steps to help the field move forward," Jayaraman said.

Cost remains a barrier for advanced prosthetic limbs, as well as the fact that the more complex motorized systems tend to be "heavy and fragile. They also get hard to control," said Robert Gaunt, an assistant professor of rehabilitation at the University of Pittsburgh.

The Hennes design "could make a difference. I think it is a clever approach and one that could see significant benefits for people with missing hands," he said.

Limitations remain the inability to control individual fingers for tasks like playing the piano or typing on a computer.

"But the vast majority of what many of us do with our hands every day is simply grasp objects," Gaunt said.

Italian researchers develop lighter, cheaper robotic hand
Marco Zambelli wears his prosthetic hand during an interview with the Associated Press in Rome Thursday, May 10, 2018. An Italian government-funded research institute and prosthetic maker unveiled a new robotic hand that they say amputees to grip objects with more precision, and with a mechanical design that will significantly bring down the price of a myoeletric prosthetic hand. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)

Explore further: Hand prosthetic gives teen new independence

Related Stories

Hand prosthetic gives teen new independence

August 25, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- A 15 year old British girl, Chloe Holmes, has been in the news as being among the youngest in Europe to wear a special prosthetic hand with state of the art bionic fingers. The bionic digits have enabled ...

Lifelike bionic hand functions via 14 precision grips

June 16, 2015

The first UK user of a substantially lifelike hand is 29-year-old Nicky Ashwell, who was fitted with the prosthetic, called the bebionic. The event marks a step up in the development of smaller, versatile myoelectric hands. ...

Recommended for you

What can snakes teach us about engineering friction?

May 21, 2018

If you want to know how to make a sneaker with better traction, just ask a snake. That's the theory driving the research of Hisham Abdel-Aal, Ph.D., an associate teaching professor from Drexel University's College of Engineering ...

Flexible, highly efficient multimodal energy harvesting

May 21, 2018

A 10-fold increase in the ability to harvest mechanical and thermal energy over standard piezoelectric composites may be possible using a piezoelectric ceramic foam supported by a flexible polymer support, according to Penn ...

Self-assembling 3-D battery would charge in seconds

May 17, 2018

The world is a big place, but it's gotten smaller with the advent of technologies that put people from across the globe in the palm of one's hand. And as the world has shrunk, it has also demanded that things happen ever ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.