Kirk L. Kroeker "Technology, too, obeys the law of responding, of answering a call at whose origin we are encountering so much static." -- Avital Ronell

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Engineering Sensation in Artificial Limbs

By Kirk L. Kroeker

Advancements in mobile electronics have led to several prosthetics innovations in recent years, but providing reliable touch sensations to users remains an elusive goal.

Researchers working in advanced prosthetics, a field that draws on physics, biochemistry, and neuroscience, are attempting to overcome key engineering challenges and make potentially life-changing artificial limbs capable not only of moving as naturally as healthy human limbs but also of providing sophisticated sensory feedback for their users. Improvements in materials science, electronics, and sensor technologies, along with sizeable government funding in the U.S. and abroad, are contributing to these efforts. However, while leg prosthetics have advanced even to the point where it is now possible for amputees to rival the capabilities of nondisabled athletes in certain sports, the nuanced movements of the human hand remain the most difficult to replicate mechanically.

(This article appeared in CACM, vol. 54, no. 4, April 2011, pp. 16-18.)

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