This article is courtesy of Christopher McFadden
Robotic prosthetic limbs and organs are rapidly developing fast. From DIY projects to multi-million dollar research these prosthetics appear to be from the future
Prosthetics have a long and fascinating history but current developments in robotic prosthesis are rapidly gaining pace. From mind-controlled synthetic limbs to ones made from lego, current developments are as varied as the amputees who wield them. Current interesting developments include decoding and translating the messages from your brain to move removable robotic prosthetics, as well as others that feed information back to the nervous system to actually 'feel' with it. Admittedly these are still in their infancy but it will only improve as time goes by. The future of this field is both exciting and gruesome in equal measures with the inevitable outcome making them fully integrated into your body. These 13 examples exemplify the culmination of work to date with many seeming to have dropped straight out of the future. This list is in no particular order and is far from exhaustive.
1. This Revolutionary Mind-Controlled Robotic Arm Could be the Future
Prosthetic developer/brand: Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab/DARPA Type of prosthesis: Mind control robotic prosthetics/High tech prosthetic arm The unique characteristic of the prosthetic: Unlike other advanced prosthetics this one is directly controlled by the wearer's neural activity Availability date/Price: Currently undergoing a year's testing by a patient in Florida The Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab, in conjunction with DARPA, are currently testing a mind-control robotic prosthetic. It is currently undergoing testing on by Johnny Matheny of Port Richey, Florida who will wear and assess its capabilities over the next year. It forms part of the developer's advanced prosthetics program, which is funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). This project, and the currently under review prosthetic, forms part of a larger ambition to develop brain-controlled devices with an eye to restoring motor function to patients. It focusses mainly on artificial limbs for upper-arm amputees. The arm isn't without its problems, however. It is not waterproof and getting it wet will damage its delicate electronics. Driving whilst using the device is also prohibited. Despite this, Johnny has been encouraged to 'test it to destruction', within reason of course.
2. This Nerf Gun Prosthetic Turns You Into a Real-life Megaman
Prosthetic developer/brand: Hackerloop Type of prosthesis: Miscellaneous electronic prosthetics/Artificial hand The unique characteristic of the prosthetic: This prosthetic is unique in its addition of a nerf gun Availability date/Price: Completed but not to be commercialized. You can build one for yourself. If you have ever had ambitions of becoming a real-life Megaman then this prosthetic is just what you need. Engineers at Hackerloop have successfully developed a Nerf gun robotic prosthetic for their amputee colleague. It is operated by flexing the wearer's forearm muscles.
Hackerloop are a Berlin and Paris based group of engineers who have dedicated their time to create interesting and unique projects - like this one. Their colleague, Nicolas Huchet, tragically lost his hand a few years ago in an accident and they wanted to level the playing field for their ad hoc Nerf gun battles. Using basic equipment readily available online the integrated EMG and Arduino technology they managed to cobble together the Megaman-esk prosthetic in just two days. EMG or electromyography technology is able to 'read' the electrical activity generated by muscle tissue as it flexes. The engineers at Hackerloop have even supplied a step by step guide to build your very own version.
3. With "Luke", Amputees Will Be Able to 'Feel' Again
Type of prosthesis: Robotic Prosthetics/Bionic prosthetics
The unique characteristic of the prosthetic: This prosthetic aims to help recipients 'feel' more intuitively through the prosthetic
Availability date/Price: Currently under development
This neuroprosthetic is currently under development by DARPA, DEKA and the University of Utah to restore 'touch' to amputee patients. Not only that but it will also be controllable directly from the patient's nervous system.
The device is connected to the patient's nervous system via implanted electrodes in their amputated limb. The arm is then controlled via the Utah researchers sensory computer program.
The device has been nicknamed "Luke" in homage to the amputee Jedi Luke Skywalker. Keven Walgamott, who lost his arm 14 years ago, has been testing the arm which has actually allowed him to touch, clasp and feel objects.
It was unveiled last year at the Society for Neuroscience conference to show off their promising results.
By adding sensory feedback, it becomes a closed-loop system that mimics biology,” said Jacob George, a bioengineering Ph.D. student at the University of Utah and lead author of the study.
4. This Robotic Prosthetic Could Help Long-term Amputees
Prosthetic developer/brand: University of Chicago/DARPA Type of prosthesis: Animal Robotic Prosthetics The unique characteristic of the prosthetic: This prosthetic device is unique because it will help chronic, long-term amputees control an artificial limb Availability date/Price: Currently under development US-based neuroscientists at the University of Chicago are developing prosthetics for amputee Rhesus monkeys. It is being used as a testbed to showcase how amputees could control prosthetics, even if born with missing limbs. Nicho Hatsopoulos, Ph.D., professor of organismal biology and anatomy at the University of Chicago said that "That’s the novel aspect to this study, seeing that chronic, long-term amputees can learn to control a robotic limb," "But what was also interesting was the brain’s plasticity over long-term exposure, and seeing what happened to the connectivity of the network as they learned to control the device." This study used Rhesus monkeys instead of human patients. They were rescue monkeys who needed emergency amputation owing to serious injuries prior to their rescue. Using electrode arrays implanted into their brains the monkeys were trained to reach for objects using the robotic appendages.
5. This Tattoo Artist's Prosthetic Arm Looks Like Something from the Future
Prosthetic developer/brand: JC Sheitan Tenet Type of prosthesis: Robotic Prosthetics/Advanced prosthetics The unique characteristic of the prosthetic: This robotic prosthetic is the worlds first tattoo bionic arm Availability date/Price: Complete and not for sale JC Sheitan Tenet, a French tattoo artist, lost his arm a few years back. As his work required the use of his hands his career seemed over. After wanting to continue his work he took it upon himself to build himself to build a replacement arm. The twist being he wanted it to incorporate a tattoo gun. His custom-built prosthetic was fully equipped with needle, gauges and various tubing for compressed air to flow through to make everything work. It was built using parts from a typewriter, manometer and other mechanical parts he had lying around his shop. Not only is that impressive enough but it also looks like a film from a dystopian nightmare.
6. Easton LeChappele's Low-Cost Robotic Prosthetic is Super Cheap
Prosthetic developer/brand: Easton LaChappelle Type of prosthesis: Low-cost robotic prosthetics
The unique characteristic of the prosthetic: LaChappele's robotic prosthetic is unique in its low-cost production costs and open source plans
Availability date/Price: Currently available - around $4,000
Twenty-one-year-old Easton LaChappelle has developed robotic amputees that could change the lives of thousands of amputees around the world. His new robotic arm can be produced for the low, low, cost of around $4,000.
Other robotic prosthetics cost many times more, often in excess of $100,000, which will make his designs affordable for many more people. His robotic appendages are designed to be 3-D printed and many of the designs have also been released into the public domain.
As a proof of concept, he produced a 3-D printed prosthetic for a nine-year-old girl called Momo. This caught the attention of Microsoft who offered to help fund his work and open up their B87 proto
7. The First Bionic Drummer Is Here
Prosthetic developer/brand: Georgia Tech Type of prosthesis: Musical robotic prosthetics/Advanced prosthetics The unique characteristic of the prosthetic: The unique feature of this prosthetic is its specialization for drumming Availability date/Price: Currently under development/Kickstarter was raised aiming to raise $70,000 Drummer Jason Barnes suffered serious injuries after an electrical accident over six years ago. His lower right arm couldn't be saved and needed to be amputated. Wanting to continue his trade he managed to build his own custom prosthetic but wondered if it was possible to develop a more advanced, robotic prosthetic that could mimic a real wrist and hand. He reached out to professor Gil Weinberg at Georgia Tech to help create a prosthetic that would help him perform again. After watching YouTube videos of Shimon, a musical robot Weinberg developed using algorithms, Barnes and Sanders knew they had had the right man. Jason asked Gill to develop a prosthetic that could enhance his muscles, replicate movements his wrist used to make and produce more expressions. He also upped the ante and requested a second AI controlled stick be incorporated for added creativity. Initial designs were controlled using EMG, later improvements sought to improve accuracy using needles. A Kickstarter was raised to help develop the arm further and enable Jason to travel with it. Sadly this did not reach its target.
8. This Lego Robotic Prosthetic Is a Sight to Behold
Prosthetic developer/brand: David Aguilar
Type of prosthesis: Lego-based robotic prosthetics
The unique characteristic of the prosthetic: The unique characteristic of this robotic prosthetic is the fact its built almost entirely from Lego
Availability date/Price: N/A - a DIY project which can replicate yourself
Creator David Aguilar, from Andorra, successfully built himself a robotic lego prosthetic arm. His youth was spent obsessed with building his own Lego designs - a hobby that would one day give him back an arm.
David was born with a deformed arm and would constantly receive comments about it from his peers. When he was old enough he decided to reject a standard prosthetic in favor of building one for himself - out of lego.
"I built my first prosthetic arm when I was 9 years old, and I build it around my hand. It started being a boat," Aguilar said in an interview.
He built his first version at the age of 9 but this proved to be too brittle to have any practical use.
9 years later, and thanks to the Lego Technic series of kits, David was able to assemble his MK1 version. This was built in a matter of days but and proved perfectly serviceable for opening doors and even performing push-ups.
But David could see room for further improvement. With his MK2 he added a battery and motor to act as lego-bicep providing some motorized assistance to the limb.
9. A Novel Combined Novel Amputation and Robotic Prosthesis Study
Prosthetic developer/brand: MIT’s Media Lab Type of prosthesis: Robotic Prosthetics/Prosthetic foot and leg The unique characteristic of the prosthetic: This prosthetic foot is unique in its novel approach to combining amputation and prosthesis design Availability date/Price: Currently undergoing testing and development A former elite high school swimmer in Boston is undergoing experimental amputation surgery to allow for a special robotic leg prosthesis. Morgan Stickney, a patient at Brigham and Woman's Hospital damaged her foot in an accident. The wound never healed and she suffered from intense pain that medication failed to null. “It never healed. We had a surgery, pain still stayed,” said Stickney in an interview. Surgeons advised her that the only option left was amputation which she agreed to. Stickney is now part of a novel research project that combines special amputation surgery and prosthetic development. The new prosthetic, being developed with help from MIT's Media Lab, is hoping to enable Stickney to operate the prosthetic with her nervous system. Morgan Stickney is one of 9 other volunteers who all hope to get a fully functional and intuitive robotic replacement limb.
10. This Robotic 'Middleman' Should Make Prosthetics More Efficient
Prosthetic developer/brand: North Carolina State University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Type of prosthesis: Predicted motion robotic prosthetics/Cutting edge prosthetics The unique characteristic of the prosthetic: Although this prosthetic is ostensibly the same as other EMG-based systems it's unique in desired ability to 'learn' users habits and predict future motions Availability date/Price: Currently under development Researchers at the biomedical engineering program at North Carolina State University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill are seeking to create 'smart' robotic prosthetics. Their study was recently published in n the journal IEEE Transactions on Neural Systems and Rehabilitation Engineering. It takes advantage of EMG technology to help the user think and operate their prosthetic. What is unique about their approach is to integrate machine learning to learn and even predict the amputee's intentions. “Pattern recognition control requires patients to go through a lengthy process of training their prosthesis. This process can be both tedious and time-consuming,” He (Helen) Huang, the paper’s senior author, said in a university news release. To solve the problem the team is developing a user-generic musculoskeletal computer model of the human forearm, wrist, and hand. Using various able-bodied volunteers they recorded their brainwaves as they made various predetermined motions. The collected data then enabled the team to develop a form of a 'middleman' between the user and the prosthetic device.
11. This Prosthetic Takes Its Orders Directly From Your Spinal Cord
Prosthetic developer/brand: Imperial College London Type of prosthesis: Robotic Prosthetics/Artificial limbs The unique characteristic of the prosthetic: This form of prosthesis involves the mapping of motor neurons from the spinal cord to better improve the efficacy of the device Availability date/Price: Likely within three years but currently undergoing trials Researchers from Imperial College London are investigating the possibility of using signals from the spinal cord to control future prosthetics. The idea is for the prosthetic to be treated by the brain the same as a natural organic limb. Most robotic prosthetics tend to use twitches from the amputee's muscles to trigger movements but this has an inherent issue as the nerve fiber ends tend to be damaged. Dario Farina, a professor of bioengineering at Imperial College London. explains that "When an arm is amputated the nerve fibres and muscles are also severed, which means that it is very difficult to get meaningful signals from them to operate a prosthetic." For this reason, most existing prosthetics have limited functionality. The team at Imperial College London want to intercept signals from the wearer's nervous system, decode it and translate it into motion within the prosthetic. They have managed to develop a sensor that uses electrical signals from the spinal cord and amplify them to make it easier to read them. INNOVATIONNew Evolving Robot Teaches Itself to Walk Through Trial and Error This technique required patients to have parts of their Peripheral Nervous System to intact healthy muscles, like the pectoral. From here the prosthetic would take its cues. Using six amputee volunteers they have managed to decode and map the signals and compared them to fully-able study participants. The hope is to compare and contrast the data to develop a full suite of commands for arm and hand motions in a robotic prosthetic. Their research has been encouraging and required enlisting physiotherapists to help train amputees how to conceptualize and the use of the new prosthetic. With a proof of concept in hand, so to speak, the team are now moving into a larger clinical trial stage. Source: Imperial College London
12. "CYBERLEGS" Certainly Looks Like a Prosthetic From the Future
Prosthetic developer/brand: Collaborative Research project funded by the European Commission under the 7th Framework Programme Type of prosthesis: Robotic Prosthetics/High tech prosthetic leg The unique characteristic of the prosthetic: This prosthetic leg project is developing an artificial cognitive system for trans-femoral amputees Availability date/Price: Currently under development The CYBERnetic Lower-Limb Cognitive Ortho-prosthesis, or CYBERLEGS for short, is funded by the EC and is composed of five partners from three EU countries. Headed by Nicola Vitiello of The BioRobotics Institute of Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna, Pisa, Italy the project started on February 2012. He and his team hope to develop a way of achieving seamless mind and prosthetic communication to control multi-degree-of-freedom system with both lower-limb replacing and assistive capacities.
13. Bionic Eyes Could Be With Us Very Soon
Prosthetic developer/brand: Second Sight Type of prosthesis: Electronic robotic prosthetics/Optical Bionics The unique characteristic of the prosthetic: This prosthetic is specifically designed for the human eye Availability date/Price: Currently under development Second Sight has developed a 'robotic' retinal prosthesis that will improve the lives of thousands of Profound Retinitis Pigmentosa patients. Their Argus II Retinal Prosthesis System, otherwise known as the bionic eye, is technically a retinal implant to mimic the capabilities of a fully functional eye. It consists of a mini-camera mounted on specially designed glasses that transmit electrical impulses to the patient's own retina. Visual data is processed by a small patient-worn mounted video processing unit (VPU) which then transmits information to a tiny retinal mounted antenna via wifi. The signals are then sent to the electrode array, which emits small pulses of electricity to the eyes optic nerve. Although it can't fully replicate human vision just yet the patients can learn to interpret the patterns of light received. Argus II is fully authorized by the Federal U.S.