Light-based sensor created for prosthetic limb control

Researchers have developed a light-based sensor that can be used to control the movement of prosthetic limbs, according to study results published in Advanced Materials.

Ifor Samuel, PhD and Ashu Bansal, PhD, professors at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, used plastic semiconductors to create a wearable sensor of muscle contraction. According to a press release, the sensor shines light into fibrous muscle, detects changed scattering signals – which increase or decrease depending on whether or not the muscle is contracting – and relays the information to a robotic arm via photocurrents.

Samuel said the discovery could lead to a new class of wearable optical sensors that allow patients to avoid the risks of electrical based sensors.

“By using light we avoid needles that would be needed to make electrical contact,” Samuel stated in the release. “A very interesting possible use would be for the control of prosthetic limbs. The muscle movements are detected directly by the optical sensor providing a simple interface to control a prosthetic limb.”

Bansal added, “The sensor can distinguish different types of contractions and can add extra functionality to active [prostheses] enabling natural movements of the limbs, which is not available with [current] techniques.”

For more information:

Samuel I. Adv. Mater. 2014; doi:10.1002//(ISSN)1521-4095.

Disclosure: This research was made possible by a funding grant from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council. Early work was funded by the Medical Research Council.

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