Researchers are making great strides in advancing prosthetic technology in terms of agility and movement. But there is much less work being done when it comes to simulating the sense of touch. This fact inspired design student Lorenzo Spreafico to invent a prosthetic arm to restore the sense of touch to people who can't afford it. The prosthesis is called the T1.
The T1 is Spreafico's final year project as a Product Design student at the University of Leeds in the UK. The 3D-printed arm features vibrotactile feedback, which relays information about how heavily a person is touching or clasping an object through vibrations sent to their skin.
The estimated retail price for the T1 is £3,000 ($3,868.63), significantly cheaper than existing touch-based technologies that cost £30,000 to £100,000 ($38,710.05 to $129,033.50) or more for the final product. Spreafico aims to make the T1 one of the most affordable myoelectric prosthetic arms.
To keep the device low-cost, Spreafico focused on pressure simulation. Replicating all the somatosensory system dimensions—humidity, temperature, texture, and more—would make the device much more expensive.
Pressure sensors are embedded on the fingertips that connect to vibrating disc motors in the user's residual limb. The discs then alert the user to the level of force they're applying to on object. The user can adjust the level of vibration or turn it off entirely. They can also choose from three grip modes: open hand, precision grip, or pinch grip.
The prosthetic user's brain will soon learn to interpret the vibrations through the device's in sync pressure sensing and feedback correctly.
The T1 garnered positive responses, and Spreafico hopes to continue developing it. He believes the inclusion of this basic level of tactile feedback could be life-changing for lower-arm amputees.
Tactile feedback increases accuracy in controlling movement and grip, making it easier for the user to complete actions with accuracy and adapt their grip strength to suit different activities. Adding tactile feedback to a prosthesis also enhances a person's sense of body position and self-movement. According to Spreafico, addressing these two issues alone would significantly decrease the rejection rates or abandonment of prosthetic arms.
Another reason why the T1 can be affordable is that it is designed with a 3D printer.What do you think of the T1? Would you use this 3D printed prosthetic arm?