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Development of a new method to increase the degrees of freedom of myoelectric upper-limb prostheses and construction of a new neuromuscular model to improve their controllability


Prostheses are artificial replacements of body parts that have been removed, e.g. by amputation following a traumatic event or a disease. Currently, three types of prosthetic hands are commercially available;
- cosmetic: passive devices with a simple aesthetic purpose,
- body-powered: powered and controlled by body movements, generally by shoulder or back muscles, and
- myoelectric: electrically powered and controlled by electromyographic signals, which are the weak electrical signals produced by contracting muscles.

These devices are still too simple to mimic the functionality of the natural lost limb because they have only one or two degrees of freedom (d.o.f.s) which allow a very limited variety of movements. In addition, their control is just in o n/off or in simple proportional mode, which is quite far from the natural way of controlling movements.

On the contrary, robotics hands are highly sophisticated devices with several d.o.f.s; however, they are unsuitable as prosthesis due to their rather bul ky size and control complexity. The aim of this multidisciplinary project is to construct an innovative type of myoelectric prosthetic hand bearing a superior functionality and a simple controllability, providing upper-limb amputees with a device that will be the closest ever reached to the real human hand.

To this end, a highly innovative biomimetic interdisciplinary approach will be used:
- a novel model of the human neuromuscular system will be constructed using system identification tools to obtain a m ore natural movement and control of the fingers;
- a powerful statistical technique (ICA) will be employed to increase the number of controlling signals obtained from the muscles of the subject's stump and thus the number of d.o.f.s highly increasing the variety of movements and functionality of prosthetic hands.

The same approach has the potential to be employed successfully also to increase the functionality of other assistive devices (exoskeletons).

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