N8 university wins top international award for biomedical transformational innovation


Engineers at an N8 university have received international recognition for developing a bionic hand which judges predict will have “a profound and lasting impact on society.”

 The ‘hand that sees’ was developed by biomedical engineers at Newcastle University and was selected from more than 2,000 innovations from around the world to win the prestigious 2018 Netexplo UNESCO Award in Paris.

 The prosthetic hand is fitted with a camera and can ‘see’ objects, allowing the wearer to reach for them automatically, without thinking, just like a real hand.

Funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (ESPRC), the hand can take a picture of an object in front of it, assess its shape and size and trigger a series of movements allowing it pick them up.

In the award nomination, the Netexplo panel said: “This bionic hand goes one step further towards symbiotic collaboration between human intention and the technical efficiency of an artificial intelligence.

“The decision-making question is central here: the hand anticipated the grasp of an object even before the human formulates their intention. Beyond the obvious benefit for disabled people, an alternative application could interest industrial firms: the bionic hand could belong to an intelligent robot, capable of precise, smooth handling.”

The new technology has already been trialled by a small number of amputees. Newcastle University has partnered with experts at Newcastle-upon-Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust to offer it to patients.

Dr Kianoush Nazarpour, a reader in biomedical engineering at Newcastle University, said: “This has been a team effort and I am delighted that our technology has received this award.

“Responsiveness has been one of the main barriers to artificial limbs. For many amputees the reference point is their healthy arm or leg so prosthetics seem slow and cumbersome in comparison. Now, for the first time in a century, we have developed an ‘intuitive’ hand that can react without thinking.”