Design News is part of the Informa Markets Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them. Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

Creating a Sensory Input Bio-Prosthetic Prototype

Creating a Sensory Input Bio-Prosthetic Prototype

Current upper extremity prosthetic technology can be classified into three categories: cosmetic, internally powered and externally powered. Cosmetic prosthetics are used solely to enhance appearance. Internally powered prosthetics (IPP) use motion of the amputee to function. These systems usually consist of gyros, cables and other basic mechanical systems. Externally powered prosthetics offer a wider range of motion as well as more internal functions such as pulley or servo motor mechanics.

Principal differences between human limb functionality and mechanical prosthetics are functionality, strength, range of motion and reciprocity. Though most of these issues are being advanced within prosthetics using various material breakthroughs, the reciprocity of the human hand is often overlooked.

The power of the human hand does not lie solely in the fact that it can manipulate its surroundings, but that its surroundings can also manipulate it. A human limb is more than just a mechanized tool; it is a sensory powerhouse that allows a person to understand his or her environment. The sensory nerves in the hand allow a person to sense stimuli such as temperature, humidity, chemical stimulation, acceleration and pressure.

To mimic these capabilities, a communication system to support a mechatronic prosthetic is critical. After all, a nervous system feedback system is essentially a biological mechatronics system complete with wires (nerves), signals and actuators (muscles and tendons). The purpose of this project was to investigate the concept of designing a prosthetic hand that could mimic this reciprocal ability of the human hand, how one would be designed, what components could be used to create it, and how functional the resulting design could be.

Basic Hand Design

The "Sensory Input Bio Prosthetic Hand" created for this project is a concept design of a sensor feedback system in a prosthetic system. The hand has two modes: automatic and manual. The modes can be toggled between by flipping the mode switch on the underside of the wrist. When the hand is in automatic mode, it is simply responding to its environment. Any time it detects touch on any of its five fingertips; it moves that finger into a grabbing position. After a pause, it moves the finger back to its original position.

Creating a Sensory Input Bio-Prosthetic Prototype

Grabbing force can be controlled to protect an item being grabbed and to protect the hand itself. When set in automatic mode, the force dial on the underside of the wrist can be turned to adjust the maximum force the fingers can impart. If the dial is turned all the way counter-clockwise, then the hand will move its fingers as long as any level of touch is sensed. If the dial is turned all the way clockwise, it will only move until it feels a slight force resisting its movement. For example, if the operator wants to grab something solid, like a block, he would turn the dial all the way counter-clockwise. If the operator wants to grab something light and fragile, like a flower, he would turn the dial all the way in the clock-wise direction. Many different settings can be attained for the hand's gripping strength in between these two settings by adjusting the dial position between the two extremes.

When the hand is in manual mode, it only responds to direct input from the user and not to any input from the environment. A joystick located below the OLED screen on the base of the hand can be manipulated to move different fingers. Each of the four directions that the joystick can be moved triggers a certain finger to move. The finger will continue moving until the joystick is released or until it reaches the fully closed position. When a finger is moved via the joystick, a map of the hand appears on the OLED screen highlighting the finger currently being moved. Each of the fingers can be manipulated separately to create a large variety of finger arrangements. To return the fingers to the fully open position, the joystick is pushed in and held, triggering the fingers to return.

Any time the hand is in manual mode, touching the fingertips does nothing; when the hand is in automatic mode, moving the joystick in any of the four primary directions does nothing. The joystick can be pushed whenever the fingers are in the fully open position, regardless of mode, to display the battery life of the hand on the OLED screen.

Simple Mechatronics

The hand works as a simple mechatronics system. In automatic mode, force sensors in the fingertips detect touch and convert the force of this touch into a signal. The force dial on the underside of the wrist is connected to a potentiometer, which turns its setting into a signal. A PIC chip, located in the forearm, compares the signal coming from the fingers and the signal coming from the force dial. If the signal from the fingers is greater, the PIC sends out a signal to the servo control board, which sends a signal to the servo motors located on the back of the hand. The servo motors each have two wires that are pulled when the servo motors turn. These wires are attached to the fingertips, one along the front and one along the back. When the wires are pulled one way the finger closes, and when the wires are pulled the other way the finger opens.

When the mode switch on the underside of the wrist is switched, the servo control board no longer focuses on the PIC for its signals. Instead, it focuses on the OLED joystick. When the joystick is pushed in a direction, it sends a signal to the servo control board telling it which finger to move. The joystick also sends a signal to the OLED screen to display a corresponding picture that is saved on the OLED.

The device is powered with four battery packs. Upon start up, an intro movie plays on the OLED screen introducing the hand. It then moves all the fingers in a set pattern to check that they are all functional.

Reacting to Touch

When the hand is in automatic mode, the only input for finger movement comes from the force sensors on the fingertips. Force sensing resistors are a polymer thick film device which exhibits a decrease in resistance when met with an increase in applied force. The resistor consists of three layers: a flexible substrate with a printed semiconductor, a spaced adhesive and a substrate with printed interlinking electrodes. As force is applied to the flat surface, the semiconductor squeezes together with the electrodes, thus causing a decrease in resistance.

This sensing and reacting process is simple, but the result is substantial and accurate to more than 10,000 Gs. The resistance of each of these resistors is monitored using a PIC's pot command, which measures the resistance of a circuit based off a resistor-capacitor circuit. The PIC's pot command can only store up to 255 resistance values, so the scale of the PIC's pot command is set so that the highest value of the force sensors, 80 K ohms, reads as 255 on the PIC. During development it was found that, for the force sensors, the potentiometer scale value is 215.

The force dial is a 10 K ohm potentiometer. When it is turned all the way in the counterclockwise direction, it has a resistance of 0.001 K ohms. When turned all the way in the clockwise direction, it has a resistance of 88 K ohm. The PIC reads the resistance of the potentiometer in the same way that it reads the resistance of the force sensors. The command scale value for the potentiometer was found to be 40.

The PIC compares the resistances of the force sensors and the resistance of the potentiometer. If the resistance of one of the force sensors is higher than the resistance of the potentiometer, the PIC sends out a serial code at a baud rate of 9600. This is received by the servo control board serial input line which is waiting to receive information at this baud rate. The first character turns the control board into receive mode, the next character tells it what command it's waiting for and the following bits direct such functions as which servo to move, how fast and how far.

In manual mode, the OLED is programmed to send an incremental serial signal to the servo control board to allow for accurate and incremented control of each individual servo. This was accomplished by having only the last two packets of information sent by the serial signal to direct for position. These packets of information can be set in a loop to iterate increasingly with a small pause. When choosing a finger to move, the OLED displays which finger is to be moved.

Though the hand project was a success, we were not able to get the potentiometer to work exactly as intended. The program works as designed, but since the servo motors are programmed to run for a period of time once triggered, it is impossible to push the force sensors with enough force to trigger the potentiometer cut-off function before the servo motors are triggered.

Creating a Sensory Input Bio-Prosthetic Prototype

Creating a Sensory Input Bio-Prosthetic Prototype
Hide comments


  • Allowed HTML tags: <em> <strong> <blockquote> <br> <p>

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.