A computer-controlled, motorized hand and arm support that will let doctors, artists and others precisely control scalpels, brushes and tools over a wider area than otherwise possible, and with less fatigue has been developed by University of Utah engineers.
"We've invented a new device - the Active Handrest - that's useful for aiding people in performing precision tasks with their hands such as surgery, painting, electronics repair or other tasks that require precise control of the fingertips," says William Provancher, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering.
A patent on the device is pending, and Provancher says he may form a spin-off company to commercialize it, or may license it to companies that produce touch-feedback devices, make robotic surgery equipment, produce art or refurbish electronics.
Provancher will discuss development and testing of the Active Handrest on March 25, during the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers' Haptics Symposium in Waltham, Mass. Haptics is to the sense of touch as optics is to the sense of sight.
"The Active Handrest would benefit surgeons and other medical personnel, artists, machinists, workers performing pick-and-place tasks, or anyone requiring dexterous control of tools," Provancher wrote in a paper prepared for the meeting.
A person using the handrest puts their wrist on a support that can slide horizontally in any direction. Their elbow rests 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 your fingertips in the center of their dexterous workspace," which Provancher says is "the range over which you can move your fingers and be very precise."