Nearly 200,000 persons undergo an amputation of an upper or lower limb each year due to accident or disease. Additionally, since 9/11, nearly 1600 returning servicemen and women have been seriously and permanently wounded, with unprecedented rates of amputation. Despite this high incidence of amputation, the acceptance rate of prosthetic limbs is less than 40%, in part because prostheses lack a means for providing direct sensory feedback (e.g., sense of touch) and intuitive control, which would make them more life-like and functional to the user.
While there have been important advances in the design and actuation of prosthetic limbs, these devices lack a means for providing direct sensory feedback. As such, users must infer information about limb state from cues like pressure on the residual limb, resulting in unintuitive and diminished control of prostheses, leading to reduced adoption and use of these technologies. Restoring a sense of touch to amputees is key to making prosthesis more functional.
Several research groups, including our lab (The Rehab Neural Engineering Lab) at the University of Pittsburgh, have demonstrated that interfacing with the nervous system through functional electrical stimulation can provide focal sensory feedback that improves control of prostheses. To develop a prosthesis that ‘works’ and ‘feels’ like a hand or foot, this sensory feedback must be coupled with information about the current state of the prosthetic limb. Our uHaptic package will provide a wearable device to record this information without the need for major modification of the existing prosthetic limb, and will provide a universal software interface to send sensor data to the stimulation system of the user’s choice.
Adding sensors to an existing prostheses to obtain limb-state information faces a tradeoff between level of resolution and cost-effectiveness. uHaptic seeks to balance this tradeoff by offering a low-cost, robust sensor package that is wearable for upper or lower limb prostheses and is universally compatible with any sensory feedback device.
uHaptic comprises of a suite of up to 6 sensors that can be attached to the relevant sites on the prosthetic limb to measure joint angles, limb orientation, object contact and grip force. These sensors communicate with a processor module that scales and calibrates incoming sensor information and translates it into a desired stimulation pattern. This pattern can then be relayed to existing feedback delivery systems such as the Boston Scientific spinal cord stimulators, Neurometrix Quell stimulator or the Ripple stimulators (Figure 2A, B and C) to provide real-time somatosensory feedback.
Much like the Universal Serial Bus (USB) technology, the goal of uHaptic is to standardize attachment of peripherals and sensors to prostheses and streamline communication between sensors and feedback delivery systems.
Commercially available FDA approved stimulators, like the Boston Scientific spinal cord stimulators and Quell are widely used to target chronic pain through electrical nerve stimulation. They provide a unique opportunity for testing and rapid deployment of uHaptic. In the near-term, we seek to work with other research groups to incorporate uHaptic into their experimental setup and establish uHaptic as the research standard for sensorizing prostheses. In addition to in-lab validation with research subjects, a mid-term goal will involve developing a uHaptic-Quell interface which would provide a fast and non-invasive route towards clinical translation. The long-term goal of uHaptic will be to deliver a sensorization package that can be purchased as an add-on for existing prosthesis users as well as research groups.
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