The Body’s Original Bluetooth
Every technological innovation has already been solved by nature; now, the solutions need to be discovered by humans. The future of invention will lie in the transformation of nature into a technological invention. For prosthetics, the future is found in one of the most complex organisms on earth: The human.
Until recently, no human had ever tried to replicate the anatomy of the ankle in a prosthetic. Then, Hugh Herr revolutionized the field and brought the world of prosthetics to its artificial knees.
His goal is to implant movements into an artificial ankle joint. For example, if you are a runner, then your bIOm (Herr’s Prosthetic) will be loaded with the ankle movements a runner uses. Therefore, an amputee can run uphill, run back into her home to get her keys, and help bring normalcy back into an amputee’s life.
But normalcy looks a little different, a little cooler. Today’s prosthetics are linked from the muscular signals of the amputee to his/her artificial limb — nature’s Bluetooth if you will. This means that phantom limb syndrome will need to be renamed because now the brain will send signals to the prosthetic that it will then use to move the artificial joint.
The Chalmers University of Technology first tested out this theory. Their thoughts:
“We have used osseointegration to create a long-term stable fusion between man and machine, where we have integrated them at different levels. The artificial arm is directly attached to the skeleton, thus providing mechanical stability. Then the human’s biological control system, that is nerves and muscles, is also interfaced to the machine’s control system via neuromuscular electrodes. This creates an intimate union between the body and the machine; between biology and mechatronics.”
Other artificial limbs are designed to give feedback to the user. Without feedback, those who have lost limbs must watch their prosthetics as they grip items. Otherwise, they have the potential to crush the object as they do not know the strength they impose on an object.
Dennis Aabo Sorensen was the first user to test feedback from a machine, the first to test a more intimate relationship between man and machine. He had a “sensory-enhanced prosthetic that was surgically wired to nerves in his upper arm.” Then, he was blindfolded and wore earplugs as he touched objects handed to him by the scientists and doctors. Miraculously, the gap between the impossible and possible changed. He accurately stated the strength of his grip, the shape of an object, as well as if the object was soft or hard. He hadn’t done these actions since he lost his hand.
The future of prosthetics means that amputees and those without limbs can function and feel to a degree of normalcy never before seen with prosthetics. These people will blur the line between being impaired and being upgraded, man and machine.