Many modern prosthetic limbs
are so intricate that they seem like something from the sci-fi cyborg realm. Unfortunately, to the wearer these marvels still feel like lumps of dead metal and plastic. DARPA's recently announced Hand Proprioception and Touch Interfaces (HAPTIX) program aims to change this. Using implantable sensors linked wirelessly to external modules, the goal is to provide lifelike prosthetic limbs with such a high degree of sensory feedback that they bring a sense of being part of the the wearer’s body, not something just strapped on.
Although computer-controlled artificial legs
have been around for a few years now, they generally still feature an ankle joint that only allows the foot to tilt along a toe-up/toe-down axis. That's fine for walking in a straight line, but what happens when users want to turn a corner, or walk over uneven terrain? Well, in some cases, they end up falling down. That's why researchers at Michigan Technological University are now developing a microprocessor-controlled leg with an ankle that also lets the foot roll from side to side.
Artificial limbs have come a long way in recent years with the development of prostheses
that can be controlled directly by the patient’s nerves. The problem is, links between living nerves and the prostheses break down over time, which makes permanent attachment and practical control difficult. To understand why this happens and to help give patients more control over their prostheses, DARPA has instituted a number of programs aimed at improving neural interfaces and allowing amputees to have better control of advanced prostheses in the near term.
Whichever marketing genius came up with the Apple catchphrase, "There's an app for that," has a lot to answer for – or brag about. It's heard so often these days that it’s become a cliché. Touch Bionic’s i-limb
ultra revolution robotic artificial hand gives yet another reason to repeat the phrase. It’s linked to a smartphone app, which allows for greater control of the hand, including the ability to program it to suit the wearer’s personal needs.
While the word prosthesis usually evokes images of artificial legs, arms, and these days even sophisticated thought-controlled hands
, an entirely new class of replacement body part has now become a reality – the bionic eye. One of the pioneers in this field is California-based Second Sight and the company has now announced that its Argus II System has received U.S. market approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Second Sight’s Argus II Retinal Prosthesis
is definitely an interesting piece of technology, allowing a blind user to “see” objects, colors and movement in their environment. Ordinarily, this is done with the help of a video-camera-equipped pair of glasses worn by the user. In a recent experiment, however, researchers bypassed the camera, transmitting visual braille patterns directly to a blind test subject’s retina.
Despite losing most of his right leg in a motorcycle accident, Zac Vawter (31) intends to climb all 103 flights of stairs at Chicago's Willis Tower
this Sunday. He's been helping researchers at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago (RIC) test a cutting-edge bionic leg that is controlled by his own nerve impulses. He can walk, kick a ball, and climb stairs by simply thinking of what he wants his leg to do.
The majority of protheses available today that replace the lower leg, ankle, and foot are passive devices that store energy in an elastic element (similar to a coiled spring) at the beginning of a step and release during push-off to give you some added boost. While this type of prosthetic is energy efficient, it doesn't replicate the full power we get from our muscles. In order to provide that kind of energy an actuator is required, and these are often heavy and bulky. Researchers at Belgium's Vrije Universiteit Brussel have streamlined the technology in a device they call the AMP-Foot (Ankle Mimicking Prosthetic Foot).
We may sometimes joke that we lack the ability to make decisions, but the fact is that for people with certain types of brain damage, proper decision-making is indeed impossible. This isn’t so much about things like choosing between vanilla and chocolate, however. Instead, these individuals simply can’t decide on how to respond to everyday situations, so they either don’t respond, or they respond inappropriately. Help may be on the way, though, in the form of a brain-stimulating device that has been shown to work on monkeys.
Retinal prostheses such as the Argus II
and the Retina Implant AG microchip
all work – more or less – by stimulating the retina’s ganglion cells with light-induced electrical signals. The images produced in the patient’s visual cortex tend to be quite rudimentary, however. This is partially because the rate at which the signals are sent isn’t the same as the rate of neural impulses normally produced by a retina. Now, researchers have deciphered the neural code used by mouse ganglion cells, and used it to create a prosthesis that reportedly restores normal vision to blind mice. They have additionally deciphered the neural code of monkeys, which is close to that used by humans, so a device for use by blind people
could also be on the way.