1950s "bionic" arm


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.


"By exerting greater or less force," LIFE magazine wrote in 1950, "the wearer can send any of twelve distinct signals to the arm." For example, pressure of the big toe flexed the elbow. All the while, the device was slim enough to be comfortably hidden by a suit jacket. But perhaps most importantly, amputees could perform daily tasks, like picking up a telephone, turning a door handle or lighting a cigarette (below), with relative ease, and with precision.

"This Battery-Powered Prosthetic Arm Was a Postwar Tech Marvel" (LIFE)