Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are working on methods to help people with amputations control high-tech bionic prostheses. There are several major challenges in providing people around the world with bionic prostheses, and one of the most challenging is improving the controllability of prostheses. Currently, typical prosthetic limbs use electromyography for control.
This control method registers the electrical activity of muscles, but can provide only limited control of the bionic limb. Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have developed an alternative control method based on the use of magnets, which they believe can provide significantly improved control. The researchers inject small magnetic beads into muscle tissue near the amputation site.
The magnetic beads can accurately measure the length of the muscle as it contracts, and the feedback is transmitted to the prosthesis within milliseconds. The speed at which muscle measurements are transmitted to bionic prostheses provides smoother and significantly more accurate control. The new strategy is called magnetometry (MM), and it has shown that it can provide fast and accurate muscle measurements in animals.
Currently, this technique has only been tested in animal trials. MIT researchers hope to move on to trials in humans with amputated limbs within the next few years. The researchers believe that in the future, MM will replace electromyography as the most common method of controlling bionic prostheses. MM can provide high signal strength, is minimally invasive, has low regulatory requirements and low cost.