When it comes to amputees who are in need of replacement limbs, the prosthetic industry generally falls short of providing extremely useful products that restore the quality of life to what it once was for the afflicted person. Artificial legs are often stiff and offer little-to-no bend when the user is walking, resulting in a very “waddling” like motion. Prosthetic arms usually act in a similar manner, allowing for only simple movements such as handshakes and waves. What people need are machines that offer more utility, and allow them to accomplish basic daily tasks. While it is understandable that there are technological limitations to what can be accomplished by these kinds of devices, however, here are 5 potentially groundbreaking products that may change the prosthetic industry forever.
1. Bionic Drummer Arm
Playing instruments has long been thought of as a process that requires two hands, and for good reason. The guitar requires you to have a picking and a string-holding hand, the piano is much more melodic if you have two hands to produce harmonious melodies, and the drums are played with two sticks to maximize the number of beats and sounds that can be created. This is where the prosthetic industry is looking to advance. A student/drummer known as Jason Barnes tragically lost his right hand due to an electrocution accident. This, according to Jason, devastated him as it destroyed his dreams of playing for money around the world. It was from this horrible experience, that he contacted Georgia Tech professor Gil Weinberg after seeing a video of the professor and his team creating a bionic device that allowed a percussion player to play the cymbals and marimba.
After Professor Weinberg agreed to meet, he recognized that a solution for Jason was entirely possible, and the team began performing tests on Jason to understand how the muscles in his disabled arm worked, and how they could use those movements to trigger movement in a possible drumming device.
Through all this testing and development, Weinberg and his team created a device that would allow Jason to drum again. Originally, the main problem was that Jason had no wrist, and thus could not control how hard or softly he wanted to hit the drums. This device aimed to remedy that problem by creating a series of piston-controlled gears that enable a stick to be grabbed by a prosthetic arm with varying degrees of force. The arm is also capable of holding a separate stick to enhance the variety of melodies. All of the motion of the stick is completely user-controlled via Jason’s upper bicep, essentially regaining him the ability to control his drumming.
(Image: Georgia Tech)
2. Prosthetic Arm with a Sense of Touch
The military is no stranger to the use of innovative and creative products, but they are usually focused directly on the armed forces. Now, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), has developed a robotic arm that is capable of feeling touch via sensors connected to a volunteer’s sensory cortex. The volunteer was a middle-aged woman who had lost her arm above the elbow due to an infection sustained from a raccoon bite. When undergoing surgery, the doctors intentionally moved the nerves from her hand to her bicep, in order to control a potential bionic device.
The device looks like something out of a Star Wars film and has the technology to match. The main goal of the arm is to be able to sense touch and allow patients to feel to a certain degree, but another feature that the designers included was the ability to perform precise movements such as grasping, pointing, pinching, and even the movement of individual fingers. This is a huge step forward from previous mechanical/electrical arms, as they would only provide limited movement that oftentimes had to be manually activated by the user. One such example is how users would have to physically adjust the wrist positioning of their artificial limb in order for it to function properly.
This new arm is directly weaved into a person’s nervous system, and during testing, the patient could feel the pressure applied on the arms via the nerves that the doctor had moved to her bicep. While the price point is going to be extremely high should DARPA decide to release this product to the public, it at least paves the way for this advanced technology to be applied to more and more mobility and accessibility products.
(Image: Business Insider)
3. Konami Metal Gear Solid Artificial Arm
It’s something straight out of science fiction, quite literally. While the majority of the products on this list boast a single feature that makes them stand out above the rest, this next product is affluent in multiple different areas of innovation. Sponsored by the video game development titan Konami, the arm was designed by Open Biotics for a gamer by the name of James Young who had lost his left arm and leg in a train accident.
Konami was originally looking for someone to promote the bionic arm that the main protagonist of their game, Metal Gear Solid, uses. An application was posted looking for any potential amputee gamers who wanted to be the subject for the new product. Out of a pool of 60 applicants, James Young was selected.
The actual arm was a masterpiece of both aesthetic and mechanical proportions, with accessories not even common on most people’s phones. These features include a carbon-fiber construction, a built-in smartwatch with social media updates, a USB charge port, a flashlight, a laser pointer, decorative LED lighting, and a miniature quadcopter drone. He might as well be ready to go to war with this arm, as it also functions like a normal hand with gripping motions. Weighing a hefty 10 lbs, the arm is by no means light, but is attached by a supportive harness around James’ upper body, and he claims It not to be a nuisance in the slightest.
4. Super Hero Themed Artificial Hands
It is common for a prosthetic limb to be very inconspicuous, and many companies go out of their way to ensure that an artificial limb looks as indistinct as possible. That is not the case with Open Biotics, a UK-based prosthetic company, which aims to make its products as glamorous and unique as possible. One of the main reasons for doing this is that they try and focus on young kids, who may not like a bland prosthetic leg or arm, but want something flashier.
The hands are currently available in three different configurations: A Frozen-themed gloved hand, a Tony Stark Iron Man hand, and a Star Wars Jedi hand. These designs and ideas are courtesy of Disney, who provided the funds for companies to come up with creative designs of products to assist disabled kids with their day-to-day lives. These prosthetic hands are sure to make any kid feel like a superhero or princess and are crafted out of highly resilient ABS plastic, which is a common material in military-grade weapons and gear.
(Image: Solid Smack)
5. Prosthetic Voice Box for Under 1$
This product is a little bit different than the others mentioned on this list, in that it is not an appendage, but rather a replacement organ. This small device acts as a voice box for individuals who have lost their voice boxes due to throat cancers and allows them to produce a speech to a certain degree. What’s astonishing about this device is that it uses no electrical components, and solely relies on the air pushed up from the lungs to create a vibration that can be heard and pronounced into words.
There are similar products on the marketplace, but these products are usually complex and involve the use of electrical components. Indian surgical oncologist Dr. Vishal Rao identified this as a deterrent factor when deciding what kind of speaking device to get. Another problem he saw was in the fact that these electric voice boxes cost hundreds and even thousands of dollars. This inspired him to begin project AUM, which represents the Hindu and Buddhist symbols of the universe. Not only is this product simple, but it is also highly inexpensive, costing less than 1$ to its patients.
The goal of this project was to restore speaking capabilities to people in the poorer areas of India and to simplify the process of voice box replacement. It has provided many people with a prospect that they never thought would be possible.
(Image: News Laundry)