World’s most natural Robotic Prosthesis is revolutionary

Original article was published on Artificial Intelligence on Medium

Image Credit: Medical University of Vienna

World’s most natural Robotic Prosthesis is revolutionary

It allows bi-directional communication between a prosthetic hand & electrodes implanted in the nerves and muscles

It is more than heartening to see technology being used in the medical field to help the people most in indeed. Only recently, I wrote about a surgically implanted Brain-Computer Interface (BCI) that gave a paralyzed man his vital senses back. In yet another milestone for a bionic arm prosthesis, an international team of researchers has developed the World’s most natural robotic prosthesis yet.

The revolutionary research was conducted by a team of scientists from the Chalmers University of Technology, Sahlgrenska University Hospital, University of Gothenburg, Integrum AB, Medical University of Vienna, and MIT (Center for Extreme Bionics).

And the joint efforts these researchers have given way to a groundbreaking invention in the form of a mind-controlled arm prosthesis — one of the world’s most integrated interfaces between a human and the machine. The novel research points the way to a new concept of a neuromusculoskeletal prosthesis which offers far superior features to the traditional socket prosthesis, that basically just slot over the stump of a limb.

Apart from providing a direct connection to a person’s nerves, muscles and skeleton, enabling the users to control it via their mind in a realistic fashion. It just feels like they are controlling their biological limb with their thoughts.

“Right now, patients in Sweden are participating in the clinical validation of this new prosthetic technology for arm amputation. We expect this system to become available outside Sweden within a couple of years, and we are also making considerable progress with similar technology for leg prostheses, which we plan to implant in a first patient later this year.”

~ Max Ortiz Catalan, Lead Researcher

It acts like a Plug & Play device where all electronics needed are contained within the prosthesis, so patients do not need to carry additional equipment or batteries. And more importantly, the technology has proved its safety and usefulness through the patients who have been using it for everyday activities without receiving any formal training.

The life-like prosthesis is attached to the remaining part of the severed limb, while anchored to the bone for stability. Electrodes implanted into the muscles and nerves let the users open and close their hands and feel sensory feedback. On top of this, force sensors built into the prosthesis’ thumb let them measure contact and pressure while relaying this information to the brain. For the user, it feels like the real thing, where you know the texture of a surface and how much pressure you are applying to it.

In addition to the standalone system, the novel concept of neuromusculoskeletal implant can connect to any commercially available arm prosthesis, allowing them to operate more effectively. The current system has been used by three Swedish patients who have lived with the device between three and seven years. And they vouch that the new prosthesis is so natural that it feels like a part of their body.

The team eventually wants to develop a widely available product that can help over a million people worldwide who suffer from limb loss. While the technology is close to becoming a finished product, the current study was limited to patients with above-elbow amputations. The researchers are in the process of developing a new system for amputations below the elbow as well. In addition to this, they are also working on adapting the system for leg prostheses.

Complete research was published in the New England Journal of Medicine.