00:00 AM

Pitt Bioengineering group wins $30K from Pitt Innovation Challenge to develop sensor wearable for prostheses

uHaptic-imgFigure: Rendering of uHaptic for upper (left) and lower (right) limb. Labeled components: A) processor module, B) Inertial Measurement Units (IMUs), C) force sensors attached to band, D) force sensors attached to fingertip sleeve.
PITTSBURGH (November 2, 2017) - The ability to sense or feel objects is crucial for interacting with them, and this is a challenge for those who wear prostheses. No modern commercial prosthetic device provides tactile feedback. However, a proposed sensory prosthetic developed by a University of Pittsburgh startup intrigued enough judges to win a prize in the 2017 Pitt Innovation Challenge (PInCh).

The uHaptic team, led by Ameya Nanivadekar, a PhD student in the Swanson School’s Department of Bioengineering, and Dr. Lee Fisher, assistant professor in the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, is developing a wearable product for upper and lower limb prostheses users that will help restore that lifelike feel. The team will use the PInCh funds to develop and test a complete functional prototype of the uHaptic package prior to deployment for human subject testing.

Nanivadekar explains, “Without sensory feedback, detecting contact with an object, and regulating the force needed to grip but not break it is a challenge. Restoring the sense of touch is key to making prostheses more functional.”

Though there have been many advances with prosthetic limbs in recent years, sending sensory information back to the wearer is still a problem that needs to be solved.

Nanivadekar said, “It’s clear that development of prostheses and feedback delivery mechanisms have progressed independent of each other. These two silos in technology need to be linked to produce dexterous movements that feel natural.”

uHaptic is designed to be functional for upper and lower limb prostheses. Sensors are attached to either the fingertips and palm to detect object contact and grip force or the heel, foot, and knee to monitor posture and gait. uHaptic is compatible with any sensory feedback device, and the uHaptic processor communicates the collected sensor information wirelessly to these devices. 

The team hopes to partner with Neurometrix, Inc., a commercial stage, bioelectrical and digital medicine spinoff from the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology, and work with their commercially available, non-invasive stimulator for testing and rapid deployment of uHaptic.

The uHaptic team includes: Ameya Nanivadekar (PhD student, Dept. of Bioengineering), Santosh Chandrasekaran, PhD, (Postdoctoral Associate, Dept. of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation), Max Novelli (Software Engineer, Dept. of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation), David Weir (Staff Engineer, Dept. of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation), and Lee Fisher, PhD (Assistant Professor, Dept of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation).

Contact: Leah Russell