The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, DARPA, has developed a mind controlled bionic arm that has made considerable advancements in the world of prosthetics. The bionic arm feels as if it has come straight out of some science fiction book. The prosthetic named “Modular Prosthetic Limb” is a highly intricate piece of technology, which is controlled via a computer that will enable it to be fully integrated with the central nervous system.
Hence, the full potential of the arm lies in the fact that it is able to set up a communication pathway with the brain. Moreover, its lifelike appearance and human like strength and dexterity gives it a natural feeling, leaving the rest of the competition way behind. The device was developed at the Research and Exploratory Development Department, at Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, and was presented at a DARPA technology expo at the Pentagon on 11th May, 2016.
The arm is attached to the body by directly connecting with the bone in the upper arm, in a process called osseointegration. Johnny Matheny is the first person in the United States to experience this procedure. Matheny, who lost his arm to cancer, says that this bionic arm is able to perform a range of everyday tasks with a breeze. The electric signals that drive the motors in the arm are formed inside Methany’s muscles and transmitted via Bluetooth to the computer inside the device through the Myo Armband.
Methany has been testing DARPA’s products since 2011 and has seen many revolutionary products over the course of years. Many years back, he received Targeted Muscle Reinnervation (TMR), a surgical procedure that places nerve cells in a residual arm to improve chances of secure prosthetic implant. Such awe-inspiring devices come from DARPA’s Reliable Neural-Interface Technology (RE-NET) program. This relatively new technology reads the brain signals, which are already passing through muscles and nerve tissues and are the same electrical signals that cause the phantom limb effect. Harnessing these signals and then transferring them to mechanical output via the biological arm is nothing short of a miracle.
Moreover, the bionic arm contains sensors in its fingertips, which are able to detect different textures, temperatures, and pressure. However, at the moment, the bionic arm is lacking the feature which will allow Methany to detect these changes. Hopefully, in the near future, Methany will be able to overcome this challenge through a simple surgical procedure. Researchers from Case Western University are tackling this problem, and they have developed a prototype which will provide the feeling of sensation by intertwining itself with remaining nerve endings. So instead of relying on visual feedback, the prosthetic will work like a normal arm, sensation and all.
Methany added that the bionic arm had a good range of performing tasks and motions just like a normal hand, saying that the only thing he couldn’t do was Spock’s famous Vulcan sign.
Justin Sanchez, Director of the Biological Technologies Office at DARPA, said that the arm feels very natural, unlike many common prosthetics used by amputees. Sanchez said, “The goal is really to capture the brain’s intent and turn it into motion very naturally.”
What Was The Reason For Developing Such A Futuristic Bionic Arm?
There are nearly 2 million people living with limb loss and approximately 185,000 amputations occur in the US each year. In 2009, hospital expenses for amputations costed more than $8.3 billion. Nearly half of the individuals who have an amputation due to vascular disease will die within 5 years. This is higher than the five-year mortality rates for breast cancer, colon cancer, and prostate cancer. For these reasons alone, DARPA thought it was necessary to make significant advances in the field of prosthetics.
Moreover, the ongoing war on terrorism has resulted in millions of deaths and injuries. Quite a lot of these severe injuries result in amputation. Since many of the affected military personnel continue to be a part of the military in one way or another, DARPA, being an agency of the US Department of Defense and responsible for the development of emerging technologies for use by the military, took onto itself to provide the latest and greatest medical technologies to the men and women sacrificing their lives for their country.