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DoD Taps Idaho State for 'Smart' Prosthetic Hand

Idaho State University announced Thursday that it has received an $842,000 grant from the United States Department of Defense for the first phase of a project to develop a prosthetic hand--a "smart" hand that will "use nerve signals to fully simulate natural grasping, lifting, and twisting hand motions," according to the university.

The project, called "Smart Prosthetic Hand Technology," will involve three phases in a research project titled "Combat Casualty Research Program, Telemedicine, and Advanced Technology Program--Biotechnology." The funding for the first phased came through DoD's United States Army Medical Research and Material Command unit with the goal of rehabilitating military personnel who have lost hands in combat.

"The existing commercial technology for arm and hand amputees hasn’t changed significantly in the [past] six decades,” said Subbaram Naidu, ISU professor of electrical engineering, in a prepared statement. "The Department of Defense is embarking on a research program to fund prosthetic research to revolutionize upper-body prosthetics and to develop artificial arms that will feel, look, and perform like a real human arm guided by the central nervous system. We are taking a unique approach to helping achieve these goals."

Naidu will serve as the grant’s principal investigator. Other researchers come from various departments in the College of Engineering and the College of Pharmacy, with input from the university's Kasiska College of Health Professions.

The project will involve the use of skin sensors to record activity in skeletal muscle and correlate those signals with intended hand motions to allow these signals to control the prosthetic hand. The group also said it hopes to get the hand to respond to "sensory and visual feedback."

The project is not just a military one; the group indicated that the work will also be used to benefit civilians who have lost limbs and to open up avenues of further prosthetics research.

"We will examine how to bypass the tissue rejection problem that has occurred when trying to attach a prosthetic device,” said James Lai of the College of Pharmacy. "We’ll use this study as a potential springboard to other possible research in tissue engineering and the creation of artificial organs."

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About the Author

David Nagel is editorial director of 1105 Media's Education Technology Group and editor-in-chief of THE Journal and STEAM Universe. A 25-year publishing veteran, Nagel has led or contributed to dozens of technology, art and business publications.

He can be reached at [email protected]. You can also connect with him on LinkedIn at or follow him on Twitter at @THEJournalDave (K-12) or @CampusTechDave (higher education).

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