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Assessment #5

Research Assessment: Proprioception

Name: ​Hebah Tanveer

Date: ​22 October 2018

Subject: ​Independent Study and Mentorship

MLA Citation:

Boyd, Jade. “Tactile Feedback Adds 'Muscle Sense' to Prosthetic Hand.” ​Rice News​, 30 May


Section 1: Introduction

In my previous research assessments, I have primarily focused on organ replacement and

enhancement. While organs are definitely a vital aspect of human life, there are other parts of the

body that are important for motility and function: the limbs. The main ailment that is associated

with the limbs is amputation, or the removal of the limbs. As of right now, prosthetic limbs serve

as the ¨cure¨ for amputees. Prosthetics have been around for a while, but a concept that​’s been

recently looked into would be proprioception, the sense of ¨touch¨ that allows you to do things

without overseeing the action (i.e. typing or mindless pencil tapping). Most people with

prosthetic implants cannot do things without watching every step that their mechanical limbs

make. Rice University in Houston, Texas has made progress with developing prosthetic limbs

that provide the patient with haptics (tactile feedback).

Section 2: My Reaction

Students at Rice paired up with students at the Italian Institute of Technology and

developed a completely noninvasive tactile prosthetic arm. Because hand movement is so

complex, finding a way for patients to have tactile feedback in diverse positions served as a great

challenge for the students. The innovation doesn​’t use electrodes like other attempted tactile

prosthetics; it simply uses rubber pads attached to the skin of the (biological) arm. These pads

stretch the skin in certain ways based on how the mechanical limb is positioned, giving the

patient a sense of ¨open hand¨ or ¨closed hand.¨ The human brain doesn’t memorize single

knuckle movements; it memorizes patterns in movement. These action-based patterns are called

synergies, and can range from simple patterns (turning doorknob) to very complex ones (playing

piano). I believe that the concept of the Rice and IIT prostheses is very clever, as it completely

bypasses the complexity of neuromuscular junctions and highlights the idea of synergies instead.

Section 3: My Reflections

Because of Rice University​’s close proximity to the Texas Medical Center,

students are able to test their innovations on real subjects once finished. ​The students tested the

prosthetic limb many times, receiving fairly across-the-board results. A table of three objects was

placed before a blindfolded subject, and the subject was asked to determine which of the three

objects was the largest. Without the haptic feedback prosthetic limb, patients only answered

correctly 33% of the time; this was due to pure chance or intuition. With haptic feedback

however, the percentage climbed up to 70%. This means that if ten people with haptic feedback
in their mechanical limbs were asked to determine which object was largest without seeing the

objects, seven of them would answer correctly.

Section 4: Current Situation

Obviously if the haptic feedback prosthetic limb was perfect, the rate of correct answers

would be 100%; there is still work to be done in this field of prosthetic proprioception. The

article ¨Tactile Feedback Adds Muscle Sense to Prosthetic Hand¨ was published last year, and

when I perform a google search about the topic, this is the most prominent article that shows up.

This either means that not many people have explored the topic or that researchers have joined

forces, as seen with the case of Rice and IIT. I am curious to know about the status of the

prosthetic hand: were finishing touches made? Is approval being waited on? In the United States,

about 1.7 million people live without a limb, Traditional prostheses is a viable solution to the

loss of a limb, but most patients usually cannot use the mechanical limb unless they are watching

its actions. The field of prosthetic proprioception tackles this problem.