Science & Technology South African researchers interpret brainwaves to give amputees bionic hands

South African researchers interpret brainwaves to give amputees bionic hands

Wits students have made movement more possible for amputees

Top marks to Wits University postgraduates. They have engineered a bionic hand which can interpret brainwaves from amputees, in the process making mobility more accessible to more than a million amputees throughout SA.

Biomedical engineers at Wits have researched how brainwaves can be used to control a robotic prosthetic hand. The impact is far-reaching, as such a Brain Computer Interface (BCI) will enable amputees and people with motor impairments to regain some hand mobility.

Currently, a prosthetic hand costs ABOUT $100 000 (R1.4-million) – an investment out of reach for most South Africans. This research will use 3D printing to create a prosthetic hand for just $78 (about R1100), increasing access to for many amputees. 

Abdul-Khaallq Mohamed, lecturer and PhD candidate in the School of Electrical and Information Engineering at Wits, co-ordinates a research group of six students studying different aspects of potentially controlling a robotic hand.

Most BCI experiments to date have centred on basic hand movements such as finger taps, button presses or simple finger grasps.

“In South Africa, stroke victims may benefit significantly from this technology,” Mohamed says.   

“I envisage a BCI capable of controlling a robotic prosthetic hand that will enable people with motor disabilities to write, hold a glass or shake hands.”

Abdul-Khaallq Mohamed

The Wits-based research group focuses uniquely on a combination of hand movements including wrist extension, wrist flexion, finger flexion, finger extension and the tripod pinch. 

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