Advancements in bionics - 12/30/13

Advancements in bionics

A soldier from the United Kingdom has showcased a bionic arm that can be controlled through thought. Corporal Andrew Garthwaite lost his arm in Afghanistan in 2010 and underwent a six-hour operation known as Targeted Muscle Reinnervation (TMR) in January 2012. Taking nerve endings from Garthwaite’s shoulders, surgeons at the Medical University of Vienna rewired them to his chest muscles. Garthwaite has been spending the last eighteen months learning how to work the prosthetic; electrodes send signals to his bionic arm, which can intuitively convert the thought demands to movement. He can feel his hand in his chest and can move it by thinking of moving individual fingers. He is the first person from the United Kingdom to have received one of these new bionic arms.  

Before Targeted Muscle Reinnervation surgery, amputees could control their prosthetics by using a harness that captured body power, transporting energy from shoulder motion through a cable to enable hand and elbow movement. TMR was first carried out in 2009 by the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago and focused predominately on the upper body. However, $8 million in funding from the United States Army and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has enabled the team at RIC to develop the world’s first thought controlled prosthetic leg.

After a 2009 motorcycle accident, Zac Vawter had his right leg amputated below the knee. He volunteered to be part of the multi-year research project.collaboration between RIC in and Vanderbilt University and made headlines in 2013, when using an earlier version of the leg, Vawter was able to climb the 103 flights of stairs in the Willis Tower in Chicago. 

Image: RIC
Image: RIC

This bionic leg is the most advanced to ever be created, “it learns and performs activities unprecedented for any leg amputee, including seamless transitions between sitting, walking, ascending and descending stairs and ramps, and repositioning the leg while seated,” Dr. Levi Hargrove of RIC said.  Recent advancements in micro-technology and the utilization of lighter materials like graphite, has made the development of the bionic leg possible. What would have likely weighed 300 pounds a decade ago, now only weighs 10.2 pounds. However, they predict it will be another three to five years before it is ready to be used in home trials. 

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