The Many Challenges of A Prosthetic Finger
Although there are certainly issues involved in developing every type of prosthetic, perfecting an artificial hand and finger involves overcoming some very unique challenges. When you consider the complexity of the human hand and fingers, the many bones which operate independently, it is easy to understand why the successful development of a fully functional prosthetic hand has been so long in coming.
Prosthetic Fingers – Major Advancements
The major areas of concern in the development of an artificial hand or finger is:
- Weight of the Device
- Level of Dexterity
- Intensity of Grasp
In order to effectively mimic the human hand and fingers, the weight of the prosthesis must be equal to or less than that of the human hand. Materials such as carbon fibers and composites have enabled scientists to develop an artificial hand weighing only 400g which is actually less than the human hand. Mimicking the dexterity of the human hand was definitely a challenge.
Because the hand contains 27 bones, and each finger operates independently, the number of possible functions the hand must perform is huge. This was resolved through the use of six sets of motors and gears which provided each artificial finger the ability to function independently. Controlling the intensity of grasp is accomplished by using sensors attached to a processing which interface with the muscles of the arm. This affects wrist and thumb movement as well as intensity of grasp.
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Prosthetic Finger – Sense of Touch
Although dexterity and grasp are major concerns in hand and finger prosthetics, there is another factor which is just as important if not more so. One of the most important of our senses is that of touch, our tactile sense, the sense which actually controls the intensity of our grasp. As we touch an object, our sense of touch provides us with information we use to adjust the strength or intensity of our grip. If our sense of touch tells us the object is hard, the force we use is far greater than we would use should the object be made of softer material. Advancements in technology have provided a “flexible skin” to act as a fingertip. It contains a liquid filling which serves to enhance its sensitivity to vibrations, as well as actual “fingerprints” with will assist in sensing the texture of the object touched.
Object Recognition with A Prosthetic Finger
When our finger touch an object we have never seen before, our sense of touch provides us with information which is to some degree based upon our past experience. The new generation of hand and finger prosthetics contains specific algorithms. They are used to process information relating to the feel, or texture, of every-day household items an average person might touch. Once the artificial finger touches an object an algorithm processes the information, makes a comparison to stored data, and adjusts the strength of the grip. Upon testing, the prosthesis was successful in identifying, and calculating the appropriate grasp force, 95% of the time.