When factory workers, machinists, or people in many other types of manual work lose a hand, the loss often results in a career change. According to graduate students at the Weißensee Academy of Art Berlin, in Germany alone, 15 people lose a hand every day on average. 25 percent of the time, this is the result of accidents when working with heavy machinery. Most common replacement hand prostheses can translate phantom muscle signals from the arm stump via electrodes in the prosthesis to perform closing, opening, clenching, pointing, and other gestures and actions.
When the amputees go back to work, however, the prosthesis mechanical gestures and actions don’t translate well for working with computers, which requires finer control than machine work. According to the Weißensee students, most people who formerly did manual labor do not use their prosthesis when reassigned to office work with computers and tablets. Many of the amputees use just one hand, which slows their work.
The Weißensee students teamed with Open Innovation Space, also in Berlin, to create a wristband that can translate movements and gestures into digital control signals. Shortcut – The Digital Prosthesis is still in prototype stage, but it can translate prosthesis movements and gestures to computer commands. It can signal cursor movement, left and right clicks, drag and drop, scroll up and down, zoom in and out, switch, and quit. The Shortcut’s two pieces include a wireless sensor and a silicon wristband. The sensor detects hand and arm movements and sends wireless signals to the computer or tablet human interface device (HID) to make the appropriate moves or actions on the screen. The wristband holds the sensor and is worn around the prosthesis.
The Shortcut digital prosthesis is still in development. The potential to help amputees adapt faster and become more proficient and productive in office work holds great promise.