Design and assessment of a low-cost, electromyographically controlled, prosthetic hand

Massimo Polisiero, Paolo Bifulco, Annalisa Liccardo, Mario Cesarelli, Maria Romano, Gaetano D. Gargiulo, Alistair L. McEwan, Massimo D'Apuzzo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The study reported here explored the design and realization of a low-cost, elec-tromyographically controlled hand prosthesis for amputees living in developing countries. The developed prosthesis is composed of a light aluminum structure with opposing fingers connected to a DC motor that imparts only the movement of grasp. Problems associated with surface electromyographic signal acquisition and processing, motor control, and evaluation of grasp force were addressed, with the goal of minimizing cost and ensuring easy assembly. Simple analog front ends amplify and condition the electromyographic signals registered from two antagonist muscles by surface electrodes. Analog signals are sampled at 1 kHz and processed by a microcontroller that drives the motor with a supply voltage proportional to the muscular contraction, performing the opening and closing of the opposing fingers. Reliable measurements of the level of muscle contractions were obtained by specific digital processing: real-time operators implementing the root mean square value, mean absolute value, standard deviation, and mean absolute differential value were compared in terms of efficiency to estimate the EMG envelope, computational load, and time delay. The mean absolute value operator was adopted at a time window of 64 milliseconds. A suitable calibration procedure was proposed to overcome problems associated with the wide variation of electromyograph amplitude and background noise depending on the specific patient's muscles selected. A pulse-width modulated signal drives the DC motor, allowing closing and opening of the prosthesis. The relationship between the motor-driver signal and the actual hand-grasp force developed by the prosthesis was measured using a hand-held grip dynamometer. The resulting force was proportional to current for moderate values of current and then saturated. The motor torque, and, in turn, the force elicited, can be measured by sensing the current absorbed by the motor. Therefore, the grasp force can be opportunely limited or controlled. The cost of the only electronic and mechanical components of the electromyographically controlled hand was about US$50; other costs, such as the cost of labor to assemble the prosthesis and the production of adapters for patients, were not estimated.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)97-104
Number of pages8
JournalMedical Devices: Evidence and Research
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2013


  • Electromyograph-controlled hand prosthesis
  • Electromyography amplitude measurements
  • Grasp-force measurements
  • Low-cost design

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biomedical Engineering
  • Medicine (miscellaneous)


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