There are approximately 1 million upper limb amputees across South Africa, with an estimate of another 5 million in the rest of Africa. Amputees find available prostheses too expensive, uncomfortable and/or having limited functionality. This results in many amputees discarding their prostheses within a few months after initial fitting, while others are not able to acquire the prostheses due to their high price tag.
Wits researchers have developed a functional, low-cost 3D printed robotic prosthetic hand where surface electrodes are placed on an amputee’s upper arm muscle. When the amputee thinks about contracting their muscle, their muscle responds, causing the prosthetic hand to close and grasp. With the help of sensors placed on each fingertip and the palm of the hand, the amputee ‘feels’ the object the prosthetic hand grasps through small vibration motors. After some time, the brain becomes familiar with the vibration feedback and interprets it as feeling the object. With this cost-effective prosthetic hand, amputees will be able to complete their daily tasks efficiently once more.