Bionic limbs: 10 million euro ERC grant to IIT project that aims to revolutionize prosthetics
Developing next generation bionic limbs that feel like natural limbs is the objective of the recently launched Natural Bionics project, a major research project in which Italy is involved through the Italian Institute of Technology (IIT).
The research was selected in the context of the Sinergy Grant call of the European Research Council (ERC). The project – which will be carried out by Antonio Bicchi, IIT, Dario Farina, Imperial College London, and Oskar Aszmann, Medical University of Vienna – will receive 10 million euro in funding over 6 years.
With Natural Bionics, the researchers intend to go beyond the current model of prosthetic limbs, which are still often abandoned by patients because of their being unable to “naturally” meet their movement needs.
The technology the researchers aim to develop will combine reconstructive surgery, human-machine interface and soft robotics, with the aim of creating bionic limbs to be integrated into the body.
Connected directly to the nervous system at the spinal level, the artificial limbs aim to restore motor function control and the lost tactile sensations to patients. New bionic arms and legs will be integrated into the body of volunteer patients at the Medical University of Vienna, a world’s reference centre for reconstructive surgery.
In order to be recognized as natural by the nervous system, bionic prosthetic limbs will have to interact with the environment just like natural limbs. To this end, the prostheses will be built based on the theory of sensorimotor synergies and soft robotics technologies, already used by Bicchi’s group for the bionic Soft-Hand.
This is an extremely complex challenge which could revolutionize prosthetic surgery.
“For prosthetics, Natural Bionics is a ‘man-on-the-moon’ project: it is such an ambitious goal that it seems almost impossible to achieve”, said Antonio Bicchi, Senior Scientist at the IIT in Genoa and Professor at the University of Pisa.
“We will have to make so many scientific and technological advances that the effects may go beyond the objectives of this project. I am very grateful to my collaborators and to the students of the IIT and the University of Pisa, who over the years have made it possible to build such an exciting perspective of study”, concluded Bicchi.