An Introduction to Human Assistive Technologies
We sometimes miss things that are right in front of us.
Such is the case with Human Assistive Technologies (HAT), a Mexican startup focused on assistive and rehabilitation technologies including bionic limbs.
We’ve known about HAT for a year or so. Or, more accurately, we’ve known about Professor Alvaro Rios Poveda, HAT’s CEO and co-founder. He kept popping up in interesting bionics discussions around the world, though mostly centered in Latin America.
Dr. Rios Poveda is a true visionary who often speaks in visionary terms and develops cutting-edge technologies. But we didn’t fully grasp his plans because we hadn’t seen any specific product information.
Well, role forward to the present. HAT recently released several English-language videos that succinctly capture the full nature of what they are doing. Have a look for yourself:
This may strike some of you as marketing hype, but everything in this video is consistent with Dr. Rios Poveda’s earlier presentations. Besides, HAT is already in the process of bringing these ideas to life…
Meet the C-Hand
First, the video introduction:
Now let’s walk through some of its key features:
- sensory feedback for both pressure and temperature;
- 6 degrees of freedom in the existing model, 12 in the next model;
- independent control of each finger;
- speed and force similar to a natural hand;
- embedded machine-learning capabilities along with integration with a cloud-based platform for enhanced artificial intelligence (AI) to help the hand evolve over time; these features should significantly reduce training requirements;
- active participation in the “internet of things” model, which should allow users to take advantage of smart technologies such as payment processing and automatic health monitoring.
What’s particularly interesting to us about the cloud-platform approach is that we’ve encountered a similar approach from other recent startups in the bionic hand space. More about this shortly.
Virtual Reality Telerehabilitation System
As the Covid-19 pandemic has taught us, telerehabilitation can play a valuable role in our healthcare systems.
We also know that proper training is vital to reduce rejection rates for bionic hands in particular. Virtual reality systems are increasingly being used for this purpose.
HAT combines both of these capabilities:
Granted, like the preceding videos, this is a bit short on details. But these first glimpses of what Dr. Rios Poveda has been discussing for years do suggest that his ideas are indeed becoming reality.
Of course, we have no intention of getting ahead of ourselves. When it comes to bionic devices, our only measure of success is the feedback that we get from end-users. And because the C-Hand and the Telerehabilitation system are still in their trial phases, it’ll likely be a few years before we have any end-user feedback on them.
Are We Entering a New Era in Bionic Hands?
If you talk to enough people in the bionic limb industry, you will inevitably run into a few hardcore skeptics. They will tell you that bionic hands are overpriced tech toys that don’t fare any better than their body-powered cousins in most functional tests.
Technically, they are correct. Most scientific studies on the subject are unable to prove that bionic hands offer any significant functional advantages on tests like the Box and Block Test (BBT) and the Southampton Hand Assessment Procedure (SHAP).
However, this isn’t the whole story. We meet many individual users who love their bionic hands. This could be the result of many factors including:
- excellent socket fit;
- good user muscle control in the residual limb;
- extensive user training;
- good compatibility between the user and the device’s control system;
- added social benefits.
In other words, even the existing generation of bionic hands should be viewed as valuable options under the right circumstances, not as technical failures.
But that’s not the topic of this section. This section is about a new generation of bionic hands with dramatically different solutions to old problems, including:
- enhanced myoelectric signal processing, which may involve surgically implanted sensors;
- sensory feedback both with and without the use of neural implants;
- cloud-based AI;
- innovative virtual training systems;
We’ve met three companies in just the past six months — Atom Limbs, Esper Bionics, and now Human Assistive Technologies — that are not viewing their bionic hands as devices but instead as technology platforms that can evolve with users over time.
Will this be the breakthrough that finally allows bionic hands to crush their body-powered cousins in functionality tests?
We don’t know. But we do know that we shouldn’t judge this new generation of bionic hands by the failures of the past. We need to assess them on their own merits, and that’s exactly what we intend to do here at BionicsForEveryone.
For a comprehensive description of all current upper-limb technologies, devices, and research, see A Complete Guide to Bionic Arms & Hands.
For a quick look at 13 new bionic hands that we are currently in the process of adding to our complete guide, please see Worldwide Explosion in Bionic Hands Continues.