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News Link • Robots and Artificial Intelligence

The Bionic Human Circa 2011

  Arm: A Brain-Controlled Limb from DARPA
Johns Hopkins University

DARPA's robotic arm is legendary. It's the result of years of work and a whopping $100 million, but it just might be worth it: This arm mimics the natural motion of the arm, elbow, wrist, and hand with 27 different movements (including rotation, bending, and extension) that's at the top of the field. But what's really notable about this particular arm is how it's controlled: DARPA wants to implant a small chip in the brain that would sense and measure the firing of neurons, then convey those commands to the arm, all near-instantaneously.

Basically, this is a mind-controlled robotic arm. It's the followup to the "Luke" arm, the prosthesis developed by Dean Kamen (perhaps best known as the inventor of the Segway), but its thought-control system is far beyond the Luke arm's foot-pedal control. If I was going to rebuild myself, I'd want the natural control of my meaty "birth arm" with the added bonus of superhuman cyborg strength--so thought-controlled arms are a must.

Current status: Last we heard, back in February, the FDA was fast-tracking the project. That could knock years off the development cycle, but we're still an estimated four or five years away from actually using this amazing arm.
Hand: Otto Bock

via BBC

Back in May, a Serbian man embarked on a journey we ourselves don't have the cojones for: he cut off his own hand to have it replaced with a bionic one. To be fair, "Milo," as he's pseudonymically known, was in a terrible motorcycle accident some ten years earlier, skidding from his bike shoulder-first into a lamppost, so it wasn't exactly a cosmetic choice. After many surgeries, he regained much of the use of his arm--but not his right hand, which remained paralyzed. This year, he opted for surgery to replace his now-useless hand with a prosthesis.

Like DARPA's robotic arm, this prosthetic hand from German company Otto Bock boasts naturally-controlled movement. In this case, you don't even have to connect the nerves from the arm to the hand--it's sensitive enough to pick up signals via two sensors placed on his forearm, picking up nerve stimuli very similar to those that trigger movement in organic hands. The Otto Bock hand boasts three degrees of movement (rotation, bending/flexion, and extension) and can both pinch and perform a full-hand grip. There's always room for improvement, as this video shows, but it's a remarkably capable device.

Milo wasn't the first to volunteer to be fitted with an Otto Bock hand--the same surgeon, Austrian Dr. Oskar Aszmann, performed this surgery about a year before on a man named Patrick with a similarly dead hand, this time due to electrocution. Patrick can now tie his shoes and open bottles, which are two of my favorite activities. If it's good enough for these men, it's certainly good enough for me.

Current status: Available now.


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