Prosthetics have come a long way in recent years with the development of 3D printing and other non-invasive technologies, but a new robotic arm under development takes prosthetics to the next level. Johnny Matheny lost his left arm to cancer a few years ago, and he recently underwent a surgery to attach a connector to what is left of his arm bone. This connector protrudes from his amputated limb and allows a direct connection to the robotic arm, as well as an easy interface for control. He is the first person in the U.S. to undergo this surgery, and not having the need for fittings and sleeves in prosthetics opens a whole new door for functionality. You can take a look at what Johnny can do with his arm below.
In terms of dexterity and strength, the robotic arm and Johnny's actual arm are almost identical according to Gizmodo. Matheney wears two wireless sensor rings around his upper arm which read his muscle movements and transmit those into the articulation of the robotic hand. Under development by DARPA, part of what sets this technology apart from other prosthetics is not only physical interface with the limb but also its potential ability to receive and transmit signals to the brain and surrounding nerves.
The biggest drawback to current prosthetics has always been the bulky straps and their lack of dexterity. Ultimately, the users are left fumbling with a plastic arm with only a minor increase in functionality. As DARPA is moving forward on this project, the goal is to explore seamless integration of biological and synthetic connections, providing for the robotic limb to truly be a replacement for the original, with no loss of usability.
Matheny will require another surgical procedure to allow the already in-place tactile sensors on the fingertips to send signals to his brain. This will give him the ability to sense texture, pressure, and temperature. As more procedures are completed on willing volunteers, the study of integrated prosthetics will increase, meaning that the days of limb replacement will soon be upon us. Losing a limb may soon no longer be a loss of ability, but rather an upgrade to increased mechanical stamina.
Written by Trevor English