As has almost happened to every male member of the human race, Dennis Aobo Soresen severely wounded his left arm in a fireworks accident 9 years ago. Unfortunately for Dennis, the injury was so severe that he had to have the lower section of the arm amputated. However, upon testing a new bionic hand that was rigged up to the remaining nerves in his upper arm, Sorensen was able to feel objects the hand was grasping and even distinguish whether they were hard or soft. “I could feel things that I haven’t been able to feel in over nine years” said Sorensen, apparently forgetting that he also has a right arm. Sorensen remains the first and only person to test this technology, but researchers hope this could be the beginning of prosthetics which could fully simulate the nerve functions of the original limb in question.
To make sure it was truly Sorensen’s sense of touch that was being utilized, scientists had him grasp objects while wearing a blindfold. What they found was that even without the assistance of vision, Sorensen was able to tell the difference between hard, medium, and soft objects as well as the shape of certain objects such as a cylindrical bottle or round baseball (not one of those cubic baseballs). The video below shows Soresen’s reaction to the bionic hand and also includes a rare Cable Guy (1996) reference.
The ability to feel an object with one’s hand is crucial to performing daily tasks. Tactile information tells you how much force to use when gripping something as hard and heavy as a glass of water, or as delicate that awesome grasshopper I squeezed too hard as a kid and accidentally killed. Still a little shaken up over that.
In the attempt to restore full functionality to victims of limb amputation and/or freak helicopter accidents (ER, Season 9, Episode 1), scientists have long been hard at work making more robotic prosthetics that a patient can control themselves. The touch sensitive technology, however, is still relatively new.
While this is a huge step in the right direction for the functionality of prosthetics, it will likely be years before it is developed for clinical use. It also seems likely that these devices will only be available to people who have actually lost an appendage, not people like me who just think it would be cool to have 6 arms.
I am not over the grasshopper thing, so please don’t bring it up if you see me around.
How long before the touch sensitive hand is available to the public? Could a touch sensitive hand ever be engineered to feel sensations like heat, wetness, or pain? Is the touch sensitive really that much better than those Terminator hand toys from back in the day?