Wits engineers create a robotic prosthetic hand which can positively benefit amputees.

A team of Wits engineering students have helped to develop an inexpensive robotic prosthetic hand which enables amputees to control it using their brains.

Abdul-Khaaliq Mohamed, a lecturer in the School of Electrical and Information Engineering began the project five years ago and aims to develop the hand for around R3000 making it accessible to the average South African.

The mechanical prosthesis is attached to the biceps and triceps of an amputee which responds to neural impulses from the user’s brain.

The hand responds to the impulses allowing the user to perform a controlled grasp or pinch.

“The sensors on the fingers and palm of the hand detect the force and its grip and translate these forces to vibration stimulation feedback on the upper arm region of the non-amputated arm,” said Mohamed.

Mohamed told Wits Vuvuzela, gradually, the brain will learn “this vibration feedback as the sensation of touching an object and through this feedback, amputees will be able to learn to perform basic hand movements through repetition and hence complete their daily tasks more efficiently.”

A brain computer interface (BCI), a device which allows the brain to communicate or control an external device such as the hand will be used to record and interpret brain signals which will instruct the hand to move.

Mohamed said due to time constraints, lack of student participation and funding, the team has only managed to work on the prosthetic, for one quarter in a year.

Deepam Ambelal, a master’s student, who has worked on the hand said ”if we were able to have [a] decent pool of funds, it would make buying parts easier and we could have a team of engineers who work together, which creates a collaborative space,”

Mohamed said some of the funding comes from his research project and from the school of electrical and information engineering.

Ambelal told Wits Vuvuzela, “I was intrigued by the hand, processing and electronics and wanted to make my contribution to the school.”

The hand will also benefit people with motor impairments such as victims of strokes, spinal cord injuries and neuro-muscular diseases.

“We started it from scratch and we are actually proud to have gotten it to this point,” said Mohamed.

The team hopes to have the hand ready for public use in the next three years.

FEATURED IMAGE: Deepam Ambelal (left), with lecturer, Abdul-Khaaliq Mohamed (right), with the prosthetic hand in between. Photo: Lwazi Maseko.