Sunday, March 21, 2010

Device to Help Doctors

The University of Utah engineers with National Science Foundation funding have developed a computer-controlled motorized hand and arm support. This arm support enables doctors, and others to precisely control scalpels and other tools over a wider area that is possible now with less fatigue.

“The new device called the “Active Handrest” will help people perform precision tasks with their hands such as in surgery or to do other tasks that require precise control of the fingertips,” says William Provancher, Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering.

A person using the handrest puts their wrist on a support that can slide horizontally in any direction with their elbow resting on a support attached to the device. The “Active Handrest” allows a person to maintain a steady hand while it senses the position of a hand-grasped tool or the force exerted by the hand or both. Then the device’s computer software moves the handrest so it constantly re-centers the fingertips in the center of the dexterous workspace.

The prototype of the “Active Handrest” lets a user move their hand precisely within a workspace of about 10 by 10 inches, moving the hand as the arm moves to reach a larger area. Future devices could allow for three-dimensional motion and even larger work areas with the same precision.

Research devices have been developed where a robot and a human user simultaneously hold a tool to increase precision. In these devices, control of the tool is shared between the human and the robot. In contrast, the “Active Handrest” provides ergonomic support and increases precision, but enables the user to maintain complete control of the tool.

A prototype has been built and pilot studies were done to test the handrest. The pilot studies had 12 people perform certain tasks. At this time, a patent on the device is pending and Provancher says he may form a spin-off company to commercialize it, or license it to companies that produce touch-feedback devices, make robotic surgery equipment, produce art, or refurbish electronics.

For more information, email William Provancher, or call (801) 581-4119.