Dexterous prosthetic hands that were developed recently, such as SmartHand and i-LIMB, are highly sophisticated; they have individually controllable fingers and the thumb that is able to abduct/adduct. This flexibility allows implementation of many different grasping strategies, but also requires new control algorithms that can exploit the many degrees of freedom available. The current study presents and tests the operation of a new control method for dexterous prosthetic hands. The central component of the proposed method is an autonomous controller comprising a vision system with rule-based reasoning mounted on a dexterous hand (CyberHand). The controller, termed cognitive vision system (CVS), mimics biological control and generates commands for prehension. The CVS was integrated into a hierarchical control structure: 1) the user triggers the system and controls the orientation of the hand; 2) a high-level controller automatically selects the grasp type and size; and 3) an embedded hand controller implements the selected grasp using closed-loop position/force control. The operation of the control system was tested in 13 healthy subjects who used Cyberhand, attached to the forearm, to grasp and transport 18 objects placed at two different distances. The system correctly estimated grasp type and size (nine commands in total) in about 84% of the trials. In an additional 6% of the trials, the grasp type and/or size were different from the optimal ones, but they were still good enough for the grasp to be successful. If the control task was simplified by decreasing the number of possible commands, the classification accuracy increased (e.g., 93% for guessing the grasp type only). The original outcome of this research is a novel controller empowered by vision and reasoning and capable of high-level analysis (i.e., determining object properties) and autonomous decision making (i.e., selecting the grasp type and size). The automatic control eases the burden from the user and, as a result, the user can concentrate on what he/she does, not on how he/she should do it. The tests showed that the performance of the controller was satisfactory and that the users were able to operate the system with minimal prior training.
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