A continuing challenge for prostheses developers is to replace the sensory function of the hand. This includes tactile sensitivity such as finger contact, grip force, object slippage, surface texture and temperature, as well as proprioceptive sense. One approach is sensory substitution whereby an intact sensory system such as vision, hearing or cutaneous sensation elsewhere on the body is used as an input channel for information related to the prosthesis. A second technique involves using electrical stimulation to deliver sensor derived information directly to the peripheral afferent nerves within the residual limb. Stimulation of the relevant afferent nerves can ultimately come closest to restoring the original sensory perceptions of the hand, and to this end, researchers have already demonstrated some degree of functionality of the transected sensory nerves in studies with amputee subjects. This paper provides an overview of different types of nerve interface components and the advantages and disadvantages of employing each of them in sensory feedback systems. Issues of sensory perception, neurophysiology and anatomy relevant to hand sensation and function are discussed with respect to the selection of the different types of nerve interfaces. The goal of this paper is to outline what can be accomplished for implementing sensation into artificial arms in the near term by applying what is present or presently attainable technology.
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