June 13, 2024

$4M grant funds project to make robotic prostheses more like biological limbs

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Prosthetic hands that incorporate robotics can perform dexterous self-care tasks, but they are often hard to operate, requiring a user’s constant attention with a limited number of hand functions. With a five-year, $4 million U.S. National Science Foundation grant, Penn State researchers aim to make robotic protheses more useful for people living with amputations.

The interdisciplinary team, led by Xiaogang Hu, the Dorothy Foehr Huck and J. Lloyd Huck Chair in Neurorehabilitation and associate professor of mechanical engineering, will work on making powered prosthetic hands more intuitive for the user by improving the neural and cognitive processes behind human-robot interactions. 

“Our research seeks to reduce the barrier for assistive technology adoption and improve the quality of life for individuals with physical disabilities by improving the technology behind prosthetic robots,” Hu said. “The resulting advances in assistive robotics will allow users to engage with their prostheses as if they are their own biological limbs, allowing them to play the piano, type or handle delicate objects.”

In the project’s first phase, led by Nanyin Zhang, the Dorothy Foehr Huck and J. Lloyd Huck Chair in Brain Imaging and professor of biomedical engineering and of electrical engineering, researchers will investigate how neural and cognitive processes behind daily tasks are represented in the brain. To do this, they will develop an electrode platform to measure sensory information in a rodent model. 

“We will seek to understand how sensory information, like reaching or grasping, are represented in the brain, and use it to help us reengineer it in robotic parts to deliver artificial sensations back to the brain,” Zhang said.  

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