In a room at Dankmeyer Prosthetics and Orthotics, employees make and modify prosthetics for those who need them.
“We are the interface between the patient and the management of their device. And we mostly do custom work,” said Mark Hopkins, co-owner of Dankmeyer Prosthetics and Orthotics. “Everything we do is a compromise, and we know that. And to keep it simple, we’re always looking for a better mousetrap.”
There are many different types of prostheses. Hopkins said that while technology is improving, they still face challenges.
Hopkins states that the more customers think about the things they are doing with their device, the less they can do about others.
“The more feedback the user gets from the hand, the better they can use it,” says Andrew Rubin. Hopkins has a hand and leg prosthesis for him.
“This is not a hand. He stated that the device is just that. “I would like for the research to reach a point where the hand starts to be seen as a smart and capable hand. A hand that does things without me having to think about it.”
Hopkins added that “We know some of the advanced designs that we’re creating reduce cognitive load. This makes us optimistic.”
Jeremy Brown of Johns Hopkins University has been working to improve this area.
“Currently, most commercial prosthetics don’t allow amputees feel with their prosthetic limb,” stated Jeremy Brown of Johns Hopkins University’s Haptics and Medical Robotics Laboratory. “Actually, our focus is on the use of haptic feedback for prosthetics.
“It’s difficult to understand life without touch,” he stated.
Prosthetic limbs make it more difficult to hold delicate objects. Brown said, “Touch an object such as an egg without worrying that you might break it if you squeeze too hard.”
They use a vibration feedback device to tell users when they are squeezing too hard or too loosely in the lab.
“We all experience some sort of viral tactile feedback with consumer electronic phones. The vibration that your phone makes when it vibrates to notify you that someone is calling or texting, is a simple signal that someone is calling you. This is what we do in the lab. Brown explained that we match the intensity of the vibration to the force you apply on the prosthesis.
Rubin said he can see the benefits of this technology for sensation. He said, “I can see that it’s important…in terms of refining me ability to control things.”
These devices are becoming more advanced as more technologies are integrated – from haptics to Bluetooth to 3D printing. Brown expects to get more people involved in testing haptic feedback.