Many of today's bionic limbs are "myoelectric," controlled by electrodes attached to theresidual limb that pick up impulses generated when the wearer consciously contracts that muscle. Those systems aren't without their challenges though, such as a disruption in the signal when the wearer sweats or the prosthetic and sensors shift around on the skin. Now, University of Michigan bioengineer Paul Cederna and his colleagues have developed what may be a more durable approach: they implant the wearer with new "minimuscles," tiny muscle grafts from their own tissue that are monitored by electrodes inserted into the skin. From Science:
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The researchers isolate bundles of fibers from each of the major nerves in the arm and wrap each bundle in a chunk of muscle tissue roughly the size of a paper clip, often harvested from the thigh. The process basically creates a new set of finger muscles inside a person’s forearm or bicep.
Because wrapping nerves this way also relieves certain types of pain common after an amputation, hundreds of people have already had the procedure—but without the wire implants that could record from the muscles to control a prosthesis. In a new study out today in Science Translational Medicine, Cederna and UM neural engineer Cynthia Chestek describe the first test of that control step.
In three participants with amputations at different points along the arm who already had muscle implants, wires inserted through the skin near the muscle grafts could easily pick up their electrical signals, the researchers report. Even with an amputation up near the shoulder, a computer could interpret which tiny muscles were contracting, and by how much, to isolate different intended movements—a flex of the pointer finger versus the thumb, for example.
Bertolt Meyer wears a myoelectric prosthetic arm and hand controlled by electrodes attached to his residual limb that pick up impulses generated when he consciously contracts that muscle. Those impulses are then translated into control signals for the prosthetic hand. An electronic musician, Meyer had the idea to swap out the prosthetic hand for a DIY controller for his modular synthesizers so he can play music just by thinking about it. This is the SynLimb. Meyer writes:
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Together with Chrisi from KOMA Elektronik and my husband Daniel, I am in the process of building a device (the "SynLimb") that attaches to my arm prosthesis instead of the prosthetic hand. The SynLimb converts the electrode signals that my prosthesis picks up from my residual limb into control voltages (CV) for controlling my modular synthesizer. The SynLimb thus allows me to plug my prosthesis directly into my snythesizer so that I can control its parameters with the signals from my body that normally control the hand. For me, this feels like controlling the synth with my thoughts.
Erin Ehm's insurance company will buy her a new set of prosthetic feet every three years, but her $6,000/foot Echelon VT hydraulic prosthetics break down every 10 months.
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Glass arms are so much more magical than glass slippers. A woman whose daughter was born with one arm asked professional costume designer and cosplayer Mandy Pursley for a bit of photographic inspiration. Pursley, who also has one arm, sent photos shot her modeling a fantastic Cinderella costume she made that is leveled way up with an exquisite "glass" prosthetic arm by artist Gilbert Lozano and fabricators Cemrock. From Pursley's Facebook post:
This costume is dedicated to all the little girls learning to navigate the world with their "lucky fins" or other challenges. I hope you know you are beautiful, and that you are UNSTOPPABLE!!! Write your own story, and be your own kind of princess. ❤
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As part of research on how to make better prosthetic legs, Vanderbilt University engineers put people on a treadmill and made them stumble. Over and over. By better understanding peoples' stumble reflex, they hope to improve the computer-controlled stumble response in prosthetics. But to learn how people catch themselves, they had to trip them first. And that required building a stumble device into a treadmill. From Vanderbilt University:
Andrés Martínez strode briskly on the treadmill, staring straight ahead and counting backwards by seven from 898, a trick to keep his brain from anticipating the literal stumbling block heading his way: a compact 35 pounds of steel specifically designed to make him fall.
Special goggles kept him from looking down. Arrows on an eye-level screen kept him from walking off the sides. A harness attached to a ceiling beam kept him safe. Sure enough, when a computer program released the steel block, it glided onto the treadmill, and the Vanderbilt University PhD student struggled to stay on his feet...
“Not only did our treadmill device have to trip them, it had to trip them at specific points in their gait,” said Shane King, a PhD student and lead author on the paper. “People stumble differently depending on when their foot hits a barrier. The device also had to overcome their fear of falling, so they couldn’t see or feel when the block was coming.”
"A novel system for introducing precisely-controlled, unanticipated gait perturbations for the study of stumble recovery" (Journal of NeuroEngineering and Rehabilitation)
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Jordan Reeves, 13, was born with a left arm that doesn't extend past her elbow. Last year, Jordan dreamt up a curious prosthetic arm that resembles a unicorn horn and shoots glitter out of its tip. Then, working with her prosthetist and technical designers at Autodesk, she designed and built the magical contraption.
"I wanted show people that our differences don't necessarily hold us back, in fact, they can give us more opportunity," Reeves told WGN9.
After receiving numerous awards for her ingenuity and founding a nonprofit, Born Just Right, Reeves was invited to display her prosthetic at the Chicago Musuem of Science and Industry's Wired to Wear exhibit.
"I love that I can show people that our differences aren't a bad thing... just look at how much fun it can be" Reeves said.
More on Jordan Reeves in Fast Company: "The Girl Behind The Sparkle-Shooting Prosthetic Arm Is Just Getting Started"
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Bioengineer David Aguilar (aka "Hand Solo") continues to upgrade his DIY LEGO prosthetic arms that we posted about previously with this fantastic fourth generation model. From Reuters:
All the versions are on display in his room in the (Universitat Internacional de Catalunya) residence on the outskirts of Barcelona. The latest models are marked MK followed by the number - a tribute to comic book superhero Iron Man and his MK armor suits....
After graduating from university, he wants to create affordable prosthetic solutions for people who need them.
“I would try to give them a prosthetic, even if it’s for free, to make them feel like a normal person, because what is normal, right?”
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Beyond Bionics traces several important developments in the field of bionics Read the rest
David Aguilar Amphoux (aka Hand Solo) just built an upgrade to his original LEGO prosthetic arm. Very ingenious! Read the rest
Naked Prosthetics creates custom-fitted hand and finger prostheses that allow an impressive range of fine motor skills to be done by the wearer, like holding and striking a match or unscrewing a tiny cap.
Matt Finney lost parts of two fingers and his thumb from gangrene stemming from a blood clot. It's cool to hear him talk about how this changed his life. Here's some of the many other demonstrations on their channel:
• Naked Prosthetics Matt Finney (YouTube / Naked Prosthetics) Read the rest
Drummer Jason Barnes, who only has one arm, has been collaborating with engineer Gil Weinberg of Georgia Tech's Institute for Robotics and Intelligent Machines to develop a cyborg arm that enables Barnes not only to play his kit again, but to "play at speeds not humanly possible... and play strange polyrhythms that no human can play." Weinberg and Barnes have now launched a Kickstarter to build another prosthetic cyborg arm that Barnes can take on the road. From IEEE Spectrum:
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The Cyborg Drummer Project Kickstarter is looking to raise $90,000; of that, $70,000 will go straight to production of the new arm. A big chunk of the cost comes from trying to replace the “couple of computers and a technical team” that are currently required to operate the arm with components that are portable, self-contained, and user operated. The remaining $20,000 will go towards organizing concerts and making recordings so that folks who contribute will be able to hear and enjoy some of the result, potentially in person.
One of the unique things about the prosthetic that Weinberg and Barnes want to build is that it will be partially autonomous. There are two drumsticks: Barnes controls one; the other operates autonomously through its own actuator. The arm listens to the music being played (by Jason and the musicians around him) and improvises its own accompanying beat pattern. It's able to do this on the fly, and if it chooses to, is capable of moving at speeds far faster than a human drummer can.
Dianceht is a company in Mexico that makes such realistic prosthetic body parts, it's almost impossible to tell they're not the real thing. Started in 2005, Dianceht makes custom-made silicon-based fingers, ears, toes, hands and other body parts, which take several days to hand paint. Fingers include fingerprints, veins and freckles. As far as prices go, a finger or toe costs around $750, while an ear or nose will set you back approximately $1,432. Read the rest
Maker collective Hackerloop modified a Nerf gun into a bionic prosthetic for their friend Nicolas Huchet. He fires the gun via EMG (electromyography) sensors that detect when he tenses his forearm muscles.
"It all started with jokes about the fact that it was too easy for us to win over him in a nerf battle, as he’s missing his right hand," writes "tinkerer in chief" Valentin Squirelo.
DIY hardware is not just about temperature sensors and automated door locks anymore. Every hardware component used to make this gun can be found online.
“Electromyography is a great way to make the body communicate with hardware. We used it to detect electrical impulses and translated them into instructions for our gun. You could think of a thousand other uses.
You could think it’s not the first problem to solve for people with disabilities, but in fact being able to have fun with your friends with these wonderful toys is also a real game changer”.
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London product designer Dani Clode has created a prosthetic thumb, not to replace a missing digit, but simply to offer people an extra thumb, and therefore add to the human experience. She calls it the Third Thumb Project.
Clode uses bluetooth controllers in her shoes, which are connected to pressure sensors underneath her toes, to manipulate the thumb. "It extends the wearer's ability. It extends the wearer's self. It's an addition to the body," she says in the video.
The extra thumb allows you to easily do things like crack eggs, swipe an iPhone, and squeeze a lemon with only one hand instead of two. Now Clode is working on the Alternative Limb Project at the University College London with neuroscientists in a brain plasticity lab to design a prosthetic arm. Read the rest
"If only you could see what I've seen with your eyes."
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On Friday, surgeons installed a "click-on robotic arm" on a patient in the Netherlands. The wearer controls the robot arm by thought alone. Myoelectric sensors in a bracelet worn on the upper arm measure muscle signals that are transmitted to the prosthetic arm via Bluetooth. From ScienceDaily:
Through an opening in the skin, the patient "clicks" the prosthesis onto a metal rod in the bone. Because the prosthesis connects directly to the skeleton, a prosthesis socket is no longer necessary. This ensures that it does not slip off, avoids skin problems, and makes it very easy to put on and take off...
The nerves that controlled the muscles in the hand and the underarm before the amputation are meticulously attached to parts of the muscles in the upper arm stump. By connecting the nerves to the muscle, the muscle acts like an amplifier of the nerve signal...
The surgeries are followed by a rehabilitation period, so that the patient can learn to contract the muscles in their upper arm by using their thoughts. If the patient imagines opening and closing their hand, the muscles in the upper arm contract.
"Click-on arm prosthesis controlled by patient's thoughts" (ScienceDaily) Read the rest
One of Obama's last posts while in office showed him fist-bumping a robotic arm. It's actually a prosthetic robotic arm belonging to Nathan Copeland, who can control it with his mind and sense touch with it. Read the rest