In the nether regions of the “NEXTech” area of Fira Gran Via, the enormous venue in Barcelona where Mobile World Congress is taking place, I’ve learned that graphene is important. Among the several startups and research projects that heavily rely on the use of graphene, a carbon allotrope that’s thin, durable and conducts electricity well, the most interesting was Italian Institute of Technology’s initiative Rehab Technologies, which showed me how graphene could be used to improve the life of people with disabilities. They showed me a robotic hand prototype which I controlled remotely by contracting and relaxing the muscles on my hand. All it took is two graphene-based electrodes strapped to my arm, which conduct the neurological signals sent from my brain to my muscles.
The ITT rep told me that even if a person is missing a bigger part of a limb, you could place the graphene electrodes higher up on their arm (near the shoulder, for example) and it would still work, because the system picks up the brain’s signals towards the hand, even if the arm isn’t there.
So why graphene? Well, it’s light-weight and flexible, making it ideal for use as a wearable product. The prototype I’ve tried was quite clunky, but ITT assures me this would improve in the future.
Rehab Technologies is working on several other applications of similar technologies, including exoskeletons and rehabilitation platforms. The prosthetic hand is currently undergoing testing with patients and should hit the market sometime in 2017.