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AI hand can help recipients restore their quality of life

Updated: 2021-11-10 07:59 ( Xinhua )
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BEIJING - An artificially intelligent hand has been developed by a Beijing-based medical team and it can help people recovering from the loss of an arm perform simple tasks like unbuttoning clothes and lifting a cup.

Unlike traditional artificial limbs, the wearable bionic hand, with signal sensors tracking changes in the morphological skin, can collect signals of intent pertaining to finger movement transmitted through muscles. These signals are then sent, via the skin, to the bionic fingers, especially the thumb, to realize the intended movement of the digits, says Yang Yong, a senior surgeon from Beijing Jishuitan Hospital and the project's team leader.

To better control the "fingers", the patient wearing the artificial hand needs to undergo a surgery to redistribute the key muscles in the remaining part of the patient's disabled arm, known as the "muscle redistribution technique", or MRT, explains Yang.

The key muscles will be sutured into the skin so that the finger movement signals of the muscles result in morphological skin changes, which are then collected by the sensors on the skin's surface. The bionic fingers, combined with the electromyographic signals of the forearm, can then realize the corresponding movements, Yang adds.

According to the hospital, two patients have undergone MRT surgery on their distal forearms.

Zhou Ping (pseudonym), from Xiongxian county in North China's Hebei province, lost his right forearm two years ago in an accident. Since receiving the MRT operation and being equipped with a bionic hand two weeks ago, he has begun to feel the changes in his life.

"I now can grab a glass of water, unbutton shirts and pick up small things like marbles using the bionic hand," Zhou says, adding that he puts it on every morning, and takes it off before going to bed.

This is not the first time for Chinese doctors and researchers to develop intelligent bionic hands.

In July last year, a Shanghai-based tech firm, OHand, donated 24 self-developed bionic hands to people.

Through the aggregate movements of its 280-plus parts, the artificial hand can make more than 20 gestures, such as grabbing and pinching, and even controlling chopsticks.

There are 85 million physically challenged people in China, of whom nearly 25 million have impairments related to their limbs, according to data released by the China Disabled Persons' Federation.

The country will facilitate scientific and technological innovation and talent development for better care and support for people with disabilities from 2021 to 2025, stated a plan to step up the protection of the rights and interests of people with physical challenges that was issued in July by the State Council, China's Cabinet.

Yang believes that with further improvement of the MRT, as well as the sensors and smart hand functions based on the feedback of patients, the technology will benefit more people and improve their quality of life.

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