1950s "bionic" arm

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When I was young in the 1970s, I was blown away by photos of the 1950s battery-powered "bionic" arm invented by IBM engineer SW Alderson. The technology is now more than 60 years old and it still looks futuristic to me.

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The Bionic Men of World War I

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Medical historian Thomas Schlich wrote a fascinating essay for CNN about the history of prosthetic body parts and the "Bionic Men of World War I." From his article:

In all nations involved in the war an emerging generation of so-called "war cripples," as they were referred to in Germany, loomed ominously over the pension and welfare system, and many government bureaucrats, military leaders and civilians worried about their long-term fate.

One solution was returning mutilated soldiers to the workforce. Various prostheses were designed to make that possible, pushing prosthesis manufacturing in many countries from a cottage industry towards modern mass production.

In the United States the Artificial Limb Laboratory was established in 1917 at the Walter Reed General Hospital, in conjunction with the Army Medical School, with the goal to give every amputee soldier a "modern limb," enabling them to pass as able-bodied citizens in the workplace. While the United States remained the largest producer of artificial limbs worldwide, Germany's prosthetic developments incorporated a particular quest for efficiency.

German orthopedists, engineers and scientists invented more than 300 new kinds of arms and legs and other prosthetic devices to help. Artificial legs made of wood or metal, sometimes relatively rudimentary, and often recreating the knee-joint in some way, enabled leg-amputees to stand and move around unaided.

Open source prosthetics Google+ hangout this Friday with Adafruit and Makerbot

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Our friends at Adafruit are hosting a month-long program on Google+ "aimed at crowdsourcing the manufacturing and delivery of the Robohand prosthetic to people in need." The next hangout is this Friday 10/11 at 8pm ET and MakerBot CEO Bre Pettis will be joining! Details are here.

MD used "silicone fingers" to trick biometric time clock on colleagues' behalf

NewImageBrazilian doctor Thaune Nunes Ferreira, 29, was arrested for fraud for allegedly covering up her colleagues' absence from work by using prosthetic fingers to sign them in on a biometric time clock at the hospital near Sao Paulo. According to the BBC, "police said she had six silicone fingers with her at the time of her arrest, three of which have already been identified as bearing the fingerprints of co-workers." Ferreira's attorney claims "she was forced into the fraud as she faced losing her job." (BBC News)

Man chooses "elective amputation" for bionic hand, after motorcycle accident

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A 26-year-old man in Austria who lost the use of his right hand in a motorcycle accident ten years ago has decided to undergo "elective amputation," after which he will be fitted with a bionic hand controlled by nerve signals from his own arm. German prosthetics company Otto Bock makes the bionic hands; BBC News reports the prosthetics can "pinch and grasp in response to signals from the brain that are picked up by two sensors placed over the skin above nerves in the forearm."

This will be the second such surgery performed by Professor Oskar Aszmann, of Vienna.

A 24-year-old Austrian man named Patrick was the first patient in the world to choose to have his hand amputated, again by Professor Aszmann, and a bionic replacement fitted. He lost the use of his left hand after being electrocuted at work.
More here, and there's video of the bionic hand in use by Patrick, here.

(Thanks, Marguerite // update: also found on Make today, via Phil Torrone)