May 192013

As if the universe was waiting for my post, three nice updates came out last week that rekindled my optimism on advanced prosthetics. First, CNN – literally 24 hours after my post – ran a story on the developments of the “bionic arm”. The reported project was successful in creating a prosthetic arm with 22+ degrees of freedom thanks to its strong funding for the past 8 years through Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). The team behind the success almost exclusively comprises mechanical and biomedical engineers. Those curious about the modular prosthetic limb, as they call it, can check out Johns Hopkins APL Technical Digest, Vol 30, No 3, pp 207-216, 2011 for juicy technical details.

The second news was featured on Washington Post on May 6th. It presented the plans of FIFA to launch the 2014 World Cup in Brazil with a kick by a paralyzed teenager wearing a “thought operated exoskeleton”. This was an initiative led by one of the  neuroengineering groups at Duke University.

And finally, on May 9th, Associated Press carried out a story on recent presentation of wearable robots (another term for mechanized exoskeleton) at the most recent American Spinal Injury Association meeting. The exoskeletons featured on that story were a little different from the FIFA ones since they used accelerometers to detect intention, rather than monitoring neuronal signatures. But the result was similar: wheelchair-bound to walk once again.

These three represent the success stories of folks that kept Federal funding for extensive periods that is necessary for groundbreaking developments. Once we realize the potential damage of the sequester, hopefully, we’ll continue receiving good news on this front.

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