An amputee was able to feel smoothness and roughness in real-time with an artificial fingertip that was surgically connected to nerves in his upper arm. The advancement will accelerate the development of touch enabled prosthetics.

The technology to deliver this sophisticated tactile information was developed, partly within the FET project NEBIAS, by Silvestro Micera and his team at EPFL (Ecole polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne) and SSSA (Scuola Superiore Sant'Anna) together with Calogero Oddo and his team at SSSA. The results, published today in eLife, provide new and accelerated avenues for developing bionic prostheses, enhanced with sensory feedback.

"The stimulation felt almost like what I would feel with my hand," says amputee Dennis Aabo Sørensen about the artificial fingertip connected to his stump. He continues, "I still feel my missing hand, it is always clenched in a fist. I felt the texture sensations at the tip of the index finger of my phantom hand."

In a previous study, Sorensen's implants were connected to a sensory­‐enhanced prosthetic hand that allowed him to recognize shape and softness. In this new publication about texture, the bionic fingertip attains a superior level of touch resolution.

Nerves in Sørensen's arm were wired to an artificial fingertip equipped with sensors. A machine controlled the movement of the fingertip over different pieces of plastic engraved with different patterns, smooth or rough. As the fingertip moved across the textured plastic, the sensors generated an electrical signal. This signal was translated into a series of electrical spikes, imitating the language of the nervous system, then delivered to the nerves.

This new breakthrough illustrates once again that success comes from intensive multi-disciplinary research and continuity in EU funded research, as explained recently by Silvestro Micera, coordinator of NEBIAS project, in a blog. This is needed to deliver innovative solutions able to change our lives.