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Medicine The Military Biotech Hardware

Bionic Arm Might Go Into Clinical Trials 107

prostoalex writes "The bionic arm project sponsored by DARPA is nearing completion, and might undergo clinical trials. 'The arm has motor control fine enough for test subjects to pluck chocolate-covered coffee beans one by one, pick up a power drill, unlock a door, and shake a hand. Six preconfigured grip settings make this possible, with names like chuck grip, key grip, and power grip. The different grips are shortcuts for the main operations humans perform daily.'"
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Bionic Arm Might Go Into Clinical Trials

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  • Power grip (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Zouden ( 232738 ) on Saturday February 02, 2008 @11:40PM (#22279166)
    The name "power grip" makes me wonder if these arms could be stronger than human ones. I don't see any reason why not. Does this mean that when an amputee receives one of these arms, he could do things that a normal human couldn't? Bionic arm recipients might become highly sought-after in the construction industry.
  • by Mantaar ( 1139339 ) on Saturday February 02, 2008 @11:45PM (#22279202) Homepage
    ... how long until people actually want such an arm?

    Seriously, I'm not trolling - I'm just trying to raise an interesting discussion (which, in some cases might be quite similar)...
    Let's consider this: once cosmetic operations were not for the rich an famous to fulfill their goal of beauty (or not), but for repairing damage that might have occurred in an accident or through genetic failures. In the beginning any surgery performed on the human body was a correction.

    Nowadays some people view it as an enhancement.

    And who wouldn't like to have more strength in his arm, be able to type as fast as Data or maybe have a hard drive hooked up to his brain? Once the technology advances sufficiently, this could become commonplace... how long? Ten, twenty years?

    What are the ethical and sociological implications? Is this already going to be the first step of realizing Transhumanism [] - just not exactly in the same way Nietzsche envisioned? Discuss!
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 03, 2008 @12:06AM (#22279318)
    It's a small step from using cosmetic surgery to make disfigured humans look normal to making ugly humans look attractive. Amputating a perfectly functional human arm because you'd rather have a robotic one isa rather larger step.

    Adding extra CPU - some sort of co-processor, say, or a built-in phone or whatever seems more likely, as it's only adding something extra. Going John Wayne Bobbitt because you want to become Robocock? Less likely.
  • by Loke the Dog ( 1054294 ) on Sunday February 03, 2008 @12:16AM (#22279392)
    It also depends on what sacrifices you want to make. If this arm should be able to do pretty much everything a normal hand can, its very unlikely that it would be stronger than a normal arm. But theoretically, you could make it much, much stronger in a certain situations. For example, the fingers lose power when the wrist is in a certain position, this could easily be done differently in a mechanical arm, but it probably would have its disadvantages.

    The fact they have some perticular programmed positions shows that some movements are of much higher priority than others, so its quite possible this arm will completely skip some ranges of motion, and that will free up room for strength in other areas.

    A perfect example is the athlete slashdot recently had an a story about, who had mechanical legs that were deemed more efficient than human legs. They were great for running, but worthless for anything else.
  • by starshining ( 998625 ) on Sunday February 03, 2008 @01:25AM (#22279794)
    This arm is very unlikely to ever get used by more than a few people. The problem is that the feedback of position and force is via vibrating pads. This is way too crude. Studies of patients who have lost sensation in their arms but retained motor control (so they can move the arm and hand fully but cannot feel where it is) reveals that most of those patients undergo elective amputation within a few years. So building a prosthesis that has tons of degrees of freedom is simply not the answer. Many such devices have been developed and subsequently rejected by patients. The real breakthrough will come with tactile and positional feedback that is fed directly into neurons in the nerve stump.
  • by luciddr34m3r ( 1232248 ) on Sunday February 03, 2008 @01:38AM (#22279854)

    Well, I know I'm answering a different question, but I'm answering my version of it anyway. I suffer from a condition where I have only about 10% of the use of my right arm ( []). I have no fine motor skills at all. My wrist has been surgically fused. I've had several tendons and muscles moved in my shoulders, forearm, and wrist to increase its function (with limited, but some success). I can preform some basic tasks, such as propping boxes and things on it to help carry things, and I can open doors using my elbow. According to doctors, my condition will deteriorate steadily as time goes on (I'm 21 now) due to several factors, and there is even a chance (however small) it will need to be amputated later in life.

    I always love reading news articles like this, because I know we have the technology to create a fully functional replacement arm, but we just haven't done it. Fortunately, this is a big step in the right direction. The question I ask myself though, is how good does a replacement arm have to be before I would decide to amputate and replace my current arm (of course there's always the questions of if a doctor would actually do this and all that, but thats a different story). For me to replace my current live arm with a robotic one would require it to be a pretty good model. The noninvasive interface sounds good, but its clunky and hard to use. I've seem people use current prosthetics this way, and the thought of it makes me cringe. Before using a robotic arm, I would need it to be controlled with my brain somehow. Of course many people have probably seen articles where they are actually trying to do this (and being met with success), but I don't think the two projects are related, although I hope they become related soon. Not only would I require it to be controlled with my mind, I would want it to have at least 90% of the functionality of a standard arm. I would not want to replace it unless I would be able to use it to type after enough therapy. Of course I'd never expect to be as fast with it as I am even with just one hand now, but if it doesn't have that much dexterity, I wouldn't bother getting it. Of course I'm being exceptionally picky since I at least have an arm to begin with. Ideally, I would like there to be some sort of sensory response, so I could have some feeling (I currently have almost no feeling from the elbow down). I know they are also making big advancements in this kind of technology. Finally, I would want it to look like a human arm. Maybe not exactly alike, but I would it so I could take of my shirt, and people would have to look closely to notice. I'd want to be able to shake hands with it without someone noticing (which means it should possibly also be heated to roughly 98 degrees F).

    I'm willing to answer any further questions as well if anyone has any, or if there are any amputees in the audience, please throw in your $0.02 as well.

    Oh yeah, and a can opener attachment would be nice......
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 03, 2008 @03:09AM (#22280184)
    Indeed it would be a large step, but consider the sex change - major reconstruction of sensitive and important organs as well as cosmetic surgery to the face and body and a cocktail of hormones. Many people have already stepped up to have them. If there is a compelling enough practical or psychological reason for people to get modified/extra body parts, someone will.
  • by nanostuff ( 1224482 ) on Sunday February 03, 2008 @09:47PM (#22286628)
    I recall a DARPA paper that mentioned the next generation of this arm in 2011 is expected to have proprioception. This is perhaps the biggest setback in the technology. Without proprioception you must continuously focus on the position of your arm and fingers, making casual tasks such as typing, as we know it, impossible.

They are called computers simply because computation is the only significant job that has so far been given to them.