Man is one step closer to realizing a cyborg reality. Jesse Sulllivan and Claudia Michelle are the one of the world’s first non-fictional cyborgs. Both of them were equipped with a robotic arm after suffering from accidents resulting in the loss of their natural limbs. The groundbreaking bionic arm is a prototype developed at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago by Dr. Todd Kuiken. It differs from other assistive technology in that the robotic arm is not controlled by traditional interfaces such as switches and joysticks. The bionic arm instead uses the signals from the nerve endings in the arm to control its motion.
The bionic arm essentially gets myeoelectric signals from motor nerves of the arm as the robot motor inputs. This muscular electrical energy is captured from under the skin, using a bipolar setup with two stainless steel electrodes on multiple sites. The electrical signals thus acquired are then processed by a TI 64-bit DSP chip embedded within the arm. The chip controls the motors in the arm. This results in a seamless translation of a mental hand-open command to a robotic-arm hand-open command.
The prototype is also capable of sensory feedback. The Bionic Arm Team reports that initial experiments at sensory feedback including pressure and temperature have been successful. The team is however still in the process of quantifying these signals completely.
This technology has tremendous potential and has generated a lot of interest in rehabilitation and assistive robotics. The robotic arm is a synthesis of international components with a hand from China, wrist from Germany and a shoulder from Scotland. The prototype implants in Jesse Sullivan and Claudia Michelle both have been successful. The arm allows Jesse Sullivan to wear a hat, grip a pen, hold a cup, drink and execute multiple movements by simply think about it naturally. The prototype however, has some way to go before it sees more widespread adoption: cost is a big issue. A brighter future for the disabled is definitely on its way.
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Harish Kumar Koundinya