Magnets offer better control of prosthetic limbs

Researchers in MIT’s Media Lab have now discovered a way of controlling prosthetic limbs in a far more accurate way. After introducing microscopic magnetic perforations in the muscle tissue into the severed residual, the length of the muscle may be precisely measured during contraction and this feedback can be related within milliseconds to the bionic prosthesis.

One of the biggest problems for amputators using prosthetic limbs is managing the prosthesis such that the same movements as a normal limb. Most prosthetic extremities are controlled by electromyography, an electrical recording method for muscle activity, however, this approach only gives limited control of the prosthesis.

The researchers evaluated their novel method, called magnetomicrometry (MM), in a new paper published today in Science Robotics, and shown that it can give rapid and precise muscle measurements in animals. They plan to test the method on patients who have had amputations within the next five years.

“We hope that MM will replace electromyography as the dominant way to link the peripheral nervous system to bionic limbs. And we have that hope because of the high signal quality that we get from MM, and the fact that it’s minimally invasive and has a low regulatory hurdle and cost,” says Hugh Herr, a professor of media arts and sciences, head of the Biomechatronics Group in the Media Lab, and the senior author of the paper.

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