Sci­ence be­hind ar­ti­fi­cial limbs has made amaz­ing progress.

Grand Magazine - - CONTENTS - By Mark McAr­dle

THE MAR­KET for health-re­lated tech­nolo­gies is ex­plod­ing, and new de­vices are be­ing in­vented at an im­pres­sive rate.

Ev­ery year at the Con­sumer Elec­tron­ics Show dozens of new com­pa­nies ap­pear with gad­gets and de­vices aimed at help­ing you live a health­ier life. The spec­trum of tech­nolo­gies spans from sim­ple de­vices to mea­sure your ac­tiv­ity to sur­gi­cal tech­nolo­gies and in­tel­li­gent pros­thet­ics.

One name fa­mil­iar to people who fol­low in­no­va­tion closely is Dean Ka­men. He is re­spon­si­ble for in­vent­ing many in­ter­est­ing de­vices, in­clud­ing the fa­mous Segway Hu­man Trans­porter seen car­ry­ing mall cops every­where.

For eight years, Ka­men has been work­ing on the DEKA pros­thetic arm. Funded by the De­fense Ad­vanced Re­search Projects Agency, it fo­cuses on im­prov­ing the lives of am­putees. It has just been ap­proved by the U.S. Food and Drug Ad­min­is­tra­tion.

Al­though the pros­thetic arm is of­fi­cially called the DEKA Arm, its cre­ators have nick­named it the “Luke arm” (af­ter Luke Sky­walker). It is the first arm ap­proved by the Food and Drug Ad­min­is­tra­tion that can move mul­ti­ple joints at once by re­ceiv­ing com­mands from elec­trodes on the user’s arm.

The next step for this de­vice is man­u­fac­tur­ing and com­mer­cial­iza­tion. In a test, 36 par­tic­i­pants from the U.S. Depart­ment of Vet­er­ans Af­fairs used the arm to per­form ev­ery­day tasks like feed­ing them­selves, cook­ing and comb­ing their hair. Ac­cord­ing to the study, 90 per cent of the par­tic­i­pants were able to per­form com­plex tasks.

DEKA re­ceived $40 mil­lion in fund­ing from the De­fense Ad­vanced Re­search Projects Agency to de­velop this arm as part of its Rev­o­lu­tion­iz­ing Pros­thet­ics pro­gram. The Amer­i­can govern­ment’s goal was to fund re­search leading to sig­nif­i­cant in­no­va­tions in pros­thet­ics, and it would ap­pear in­vest­ing in Dean Ka­men has paid off.

Across the At­lantic Ocean, a com­pany in the United King­dom has es­tab­lished a lead­er­ship po­si­tion in the ad­vanced pros­thet­ics mar­ket. It is aptly named Touch Bion­ics.

The com­pany was formed by re­searchers at the Princess Mar­garet Rose Hospi­tal in Ed­in­burgh in 1963. These re­searchers were work­ing on pros­thetic so­lu­tions for chil­dren af­fected by the drug Thalido­mide.

Their flag­ship prod­uct, the i-limb ul­tra revo­lu­tion pros­thetic hand looks re­mark­ably like a hu­man hand. It’s pro­por­tioned

cor­rectly and has joints and knuck­les that func­tion sim­i­larly to a hu­man hand. It also fea­tures a ro­tat­ing thumb and a ro­tat­able wrist. Each in­di­vid­ual digit is fully in­de­pen­dent of the oth­ers. The modelling of hu­man move­ment has been used to de­sign the con­trol soft­ware that makes the i-limb much more nat­u­ral look­ing. They claim it is the most dex­ter­ous hand ever made, and it would ap­pear that’s not an ex­ag­ger­a­tion. The hand can be con­trolled by us­ing mus­cle sig­nals, and this ap­proach re­quires the user to train. Spe­cific mus­cle move­ments, called trig­gers, can be pro­grammed to move the pros­thetic into spe­cific grips or po­si­tions. Touch Bion­ics has also in­vented an al­ter­na­tive method of con­trol­ling the pros­thetic. It uti­lizes an iPod, iPhone or iPad as well as An­droid de­vices. Us­ing an app that con­nects to the i-limb over Blue­tooth, the user can move the hand into one of 24 pre-pro­grammed grips. Things like the shape of your hand when grip­ping a mouse or shak­ing some­one’s hand are ex­am­ples of the menu avail­able. The app, called biosim, is also used to train and col­lect lots of in­for­ma­tion that can help tune the pros­thetic.

Touch Bion­ics has clev­erly cre­ated a way to au­to­mat­i­cally trig­ger a grip by plac­ing some­thing called a “Grip Chip” on a de­vice like a key­board. When the hand comes close to the key­board, it re­po­si­tions the grip to en­able easy typ­ing.

The fi­nal touch is the cov­er­ing. In 2008, Touch Bion­ics ac­quired an Amer­i­can com­pany called Liv­ingskin to pro­vide a life­like cov­er­ing for their prod­ucts. The i-limb skin nat­u­ral cover is de­signed to look and feel like nat­u­ral hu­man skin. There are 10 colour op­tions. The syn­thetic skin cover looks pretty fu­tur­is­tic. It re­minds me of the ro­bots from the Will Smith movie I, Ro­bot.

Those of us with all of our limbs take for granted our abil­ity to ef­fort­lessly per­form count­less tasks ev­ery day. Through birth de­fects, ac­ci­dents, dis­ease and war, lots of people would ben­e­fit from im­proved dex­ter­ity. The sim­ple pros­thet­ics of yes­ter­day are giv­ing way to some in­cred­i­ble new de­vices that are bring­ing to­gether all kinds of ad­vanced tech­nolo­gies.

It’s an amaz­ing area of re­search, and at first glance may seem like sci-fi. But this tech­nol­ogy isn’t fan­tasy. It’s real. For more in­for­ma­tion, check out: www.dekare­ www.touch­bion­


Mark McAr­dle

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