Consider the action of picking up a coffee cup, tennis ball, or similar objects. You look a the device, perhaps not actually focusing on it, then rely on your muscles, sense touch, along with an ability called proprioception, which allows your brain to sense the position of your limbs, to complete the action with little thought. Without these sensory abilities, however, amputees must normally rely more on visual cues to determine limb location, as well as whether the target object is properly secured.
Now thanks to research coordinated by Silvestro Micera, a professor of bioengineering at EPFL, and Paolo Maria Rossini, director of neuroscience at the A. Gemelli University Polyclinic, this may soon change. After 10 years of work, they’ve been able to deliver position and tactile feedback in real time to participants via electrical pulses. This could be extremely useful when combined with current myoelectric prosthesis technology, meaning control via residual muscle function, and adding corresponding sensory feedback.
As of now, results have been promising, enabling amputees to determine the size and shape of four objects with a greater than 75% accuracy. While still in the experimental stages, one could see this technique advancing further to provide for even more useful results in the future, especially when integrated with other emergent technologies.