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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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  • by User 956 ( 568564 ) on Saturday February 02, 2008 @11:33PM (#22279100) Homepage
    The bionic arm project sponsored by DARPA is nearing completion, and might undergo clinical trials.

    Great! Now we can rescue Super Joe!
  • IMPORTANT: (Score:1, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward
    can it be programmed for jacking off?
    • by sqrt(2) ( 786011 )
      When it comes to something that important I would say the simplest solution is the best one. So...use the other hand? Fleshlight?
    • that's in the service pack 1 update. You get jacking, ctrl-alt-del finger position, and DEATH GRIP!
    • Sure, just install voice recognition capability.
      BTW, avoid the command "Jerk it off". :)
  • photo!! (Score:5, Funny)

    by commodoresloat ( 172735 ) * on Saturday February 02, 2008 @11:35PM (#22279128)
    They have a photo of a politician using the arm available online here [].
  • Finally... (Score:3, Funny)

    by neonmonk ( 467567 ) on Saturday February 02, 2008 @11:36PM (#22279138)
    I'll be able to compose that Holophoner opera.
  • This is the part where somebody makes a joke about the "bionic" sound, then people fight over how to Ascii-tize it. "It's Tsk Tsk Tsk", "No you big dummy, it's Tsh Tsh Tsh", "You're both wrong, you Microsoft-lovers, it's Mnp Mnp Mnp..."
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by plover ( 150551 ) *
      I wasn't thinking of the bionic sound, but rather that the recipient of the arm was going to have to agree to be filmed lifting heavy things in slow motion.
  • 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.
    • Re:Power grip (Score:4, Insightful)

      by calebt3 ( 1098475 ) on Saturday February 02, 2008 @11:45PM (#22279196)
      Only if the arm is attached to the body in a more secure way than normal ones.
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Tablizer ( 95088 )
      Does this mean that when an amputee receives one of these arms, he could do things that a normal human couldn't?

      When somebody cuts me off in traffic, it would indeed be satisfying to give them a 2-foot-long birdy.
    • by mosb1000 ( 710161 ) <> on Saturday February 02, 2008 @11:57PM (#22279268)
      "I don't see any reason why not."

      The power of the arm is limited by the amount of power the motors in the arm can generate, which in turn is limited by the size of the battery in the arm. Since the power is limited, the amount of force that can be applied by the arm is also limited, as the arm will need to be able move at a reasonable speed. When you see a hydraulic arm performing tasks of immense strength, it is important to note the motor attached to it. In most cases an internal combustion engine would be too heavy to use in a bionic arm (and too noisy).

      More importantly, the "core strength" of the person is unaffected by the arm, so the force applied in most tasks (tasks requiring the muscles in the back and legs) would be limited by the person's other muscles in the event that the arm were significantly stronger. Of course if the arm is not able to apply as much force as the rest of the body, the arm becomes the limiting factor.

      Also, the connection of the arm to the person could be the limiting factor, depending on how it attached.
      • 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.
      • In other words, the only part of it that could be made really strong is the fingers. So it could squeeze a brick to powder, but it couldn't lift much more than an average human arm. That makes sense. It'd be a neat party trick, but not much use in the real world.
      • I see many reasons why it won't be stronger in the traditional form.

        we are yet to equal the weight to strength ratio of muscles and bones.

        however, lets say they make arms with attachable addons, like stablizers for heavy lifting i could see them doing amazing things.

        • by fbjon ( 692006 )
          Yet to equal? I'd say we can build things much stronger than the waterbags we operate in. What we cannot match, however, is self-maintenance and repair.
          • I'd say we can build things much stronger than the waterbags we operate in.

            Do you have an example? Last I heard mechanical systems were something like an order of magnitude off from the efficiency of muscles. Remember the issue is strength-to-weight-ratio, not strength. You can make a machine that can lift as much as 10 men could, but it'll weigh a lot more than 10 men (including the weight of whatever is powering it, of course).

            What we cannot match, however, is self-maintenance and repair.

            Then again, me
      • by fatphil ( 181876 )
        See the mythbusters superhero special. Jamie's winch.
      • Yeah, that's always bothered me about stuff like Bionic Worman - "Your new arm can lift 1100 pounds!"

        Um, can her spine?
    • Groovy.
    • I love the Power Grip. It's so bad...
    • > Well, you can. But remember that artificial arms start with a strength of 4 and already cost you one whole essence point. If you want to boost the strength past 7 you'll end up losing another 0.4 essence per strength point, not to mention the space high-level boosts take up.

      If you ask me, you're much better off getting artificial muscles. They're one essnce per level, but the strength applies to your whole body and not to a single limb. Or, better yet, go with bioware and get your muscles enhanced. S
  • Good ... (Score:3, Funny)

    by Sepiraph ( 1162995 ) on Saturday February 02, 2008 @11:45PM (#22279194)
    I always wanted to impress someone with a powerful handshake.
  • 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!
    • Well I want it now... And the razor blade finger nails too....
    • Re: (Score:1, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward
      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 toddian ( 997999 )
        However it wouldn't need to be an amputation. Perhaps a pair of bionic arms with a secure harness-type upper body attachment, controlled by the non-amputees hands. That being said, at this point we're straying into the realm of full-body mech suits. Still, there would be some useful applications out there.
      • Re: (Score:1, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward
        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.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by frankmu ( 68782 )
      you know, i was thinking while putting together the IKEA bunk bed for the kids... if i only had an extra pair of hands. now i can rent one! sorta like Kali
    • by plover ( 150551 ) *
      "Tommy John surgery" was originally developed as a way to repair a baseball pitcher's damaged elbow ligament. Scientific American had an article not too long ago suggesting that the surgery is dangerously close to an enhancement, as it improved the mechanical advantage of the muscles in the pitching motion.

      While it's not a "bionic" replacement (the donor ligament is still tissue harvested from elsewhere in the patient's body) there are still ethical questions to be asked whether or not a healthy player s

      • by mqduck ( 232646 )

        While it's not a "bionic" replacement (the donor ligament is still tissue harvested from elsewhere in the patient's body) there are still ethical

        [shouldn't that be "fairness"?]

        questions to be asked whether or not a healthy player should be permitted to undergo the surgery simply to improve his performance.

        If they don't allow steroid use, why the hell would they allow that? Personally, I'm close to saying I don't care about steroid use, but as it would effectively make their use a stone-hard requirement, and there are health implications (physical and mental), I suppose the ban is necessary. Still, I have a hard time understanding why people are so furious at Bary Bonds.

    • 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......
      • Don't ask for a can opener attachment! Once they start giving human amputees bionic arms with can openers, the day will come when cats are given bionic legs with can openers. The human race will be doomed!
      • You can actually try out these new technologies, and gain further insight into their pracical use without having to amoputate. You might not even have to amputate at all, how about assisted movement? I'd like to recommend a book on the topic of artificial human enhancement and much more called Natural born cyborgs [] ( It will probably help you with insight into different user interfaces in bionics, how they work and what will probably be most fitting for you. I believe you'll find that there proba
      • I guess someone with your condition would have given this much more though that me...but the biggest turn off for me about this technology would be losing the sense of touch. I suspect that getting this from a bionic arm will come ALOT later than dexterity.
        • Well, I already have little to no sense of touch, but they are making progress in the area of providing sensory feedback from my understanding, but yes, it's probably one of the farthest off aspects.
      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by nanostuff ( 1224482 )
        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.
      • I hear ya on this one. Reading these articles about the research into prosthetics make me think the future will not be so grim. I am in a similar situation as you. I have rheumatoid arthritis in my knees and can't walk so well. I'm also young like you (23). Looking at this research makes me think that maybe sometime in my life, it will be possible to have leg replacements that will be functional just like normal ones. Maybe give me the chance to ski again and all that jazz.

        For the question you asked about w
    • yes. and its problary one of the better ways to embrace the technology of tomorrow, alternatives leaves us.. well, dead.
    • by tknd ( 979052 )

      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!

      It's been debated before but, yes, I think inevitably we are moving towards Transhumanism concepts in the future. Perhaps not in our lifetimes but in a few generations it seems likely.

      Currently much of science and technology is moving forward. But it is much easier for engineering to move forward than biological research. The bio stuff will always be a step behind because, ultimately, they want to first cure biological abnormalities and diseases. On the other side of the spectrum, there's a whole lot

  • Now I can cash out my savings, remove my limb and get one of these bad boys to hardware hack! I'm a put a chain on mine and be like Bionic Commando. And oh yeah, jerk mode.
  • Six preconfigured grip settings make this possible, with names like chuck grip, key grip, and power grip...

    If I had a bionic arm, it would only have one grip: Crush.
    Of course, that would have to be my LEFT arm...
  • by wiredlogic ( 135348 ) on Sunday February 03, 2008 @12:07AM (#22279324)
    What? No kung fu grip? What a gyp.
    • Dude. It has the Chuck Norris [] grip!
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Cyberia ( 70947 )
      Actually, If I was a potential recipient of the arm, I would insist on a FU-grip. Ultra fast, efficient perfect single [middle] finger salute! And maybe a plethora of single hand or double in the case of a double amputee sign language insults to be volleyed at a moments notice.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by wiredlogic ( 135348 )
        You've identified a significamt limitation in current electro-mechanicical prosthetics. I suggest you take out a patent on an 'apparatus for enabling gestural espression by amputees'.
  • I think this has already been patented [].
  • What? No nose picker?
  • I often think of the show (especially with Bionic Woman in remake...) and ponder "only six million dollars?" How rapidly our expectations rise while the real dollar drops...
    • At the time, the french title was "l'homme qui vallait 3 miliars", but now, it would only be slighly more than 4 million euros, basicaly only slightly more than the TCO of a regular soldier or policeman.
  • But does it make the right sound when it's used for something impressive?
  • Hopefully THIS arm is not made of hot dogs.
  • Hopefully the power drill isn't powered when they're picking it up.
  • by iq in binary ( 305246 ) <> on Sunday February 03, 2008 @01:15AM (#22279740) Homepage
    And keeps this project funded until it finds a private investor.

    I've worked on DARPA funded projects before, and there are many ingenious and utterly useful ideas that almost got there but never did. DARPA funds run out, and DARPA never picked up funding on the projects again. We're talking life saving inventions and concepts, almost ready and out the door, DARPA dropped them.

    There was a friend of mine that developed a snake-cam (for rescue rovers like those used at the WTC) that could extend and retract into a module up to 2 feet, with the same mobility as the snake-cams you see SWAT and medical personnel use (Trachioscopies, etc.), geared specifically for rescue use. Had the mechanical side figured out, was working out kinks in the remote control aspect of the pullies (involved in the design to manipulate the "snake"), and DARPA pulled funding short. 9/11 came shortly there-after, but it was too late to revive the idea, my buddy went out of business and abandoned it.

    But something like this? I would personally dedicate my online presence to putting something together a-la-Child's Play to keep these guys in business.

    Any ideas in case DARPA twinkie-spines this one?
  • 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 d
    • The human mind is amazingly adaptable. Vibration and pressure feedback can be relearned as a position/velocity feedback. Direct neuro feedback is so far away it still in the realm of super science, not even science fiction.
      • Vibration and pressure feedback has been tried many times. People do learn the patterns and can relate them to position and velocity. However, the learning process is long when there are more than just a few sensors (35 would be daunting to say the least), the donning/doffing procedures are a daily hassle (and if you bump it or even sit down abruptly, you have to reposition it), you can't go swimming or take a shower or bath with it on, there are frequent maintenance issues, so it is in the shop as much a
  • Hold on a minute...if this is DARPA why aren't they doing tests on how effective it is at ripping Iraqis' throats out? Is the bionic handshake the caring, sharing shape of things to come? It'll make a crap movie!
  • I take it that DARPA have funded this with injured soldiers in mind. I would advise young Americans to use their real arms to stick one finger up at military recruiters so that they will not require this advanced arm at a later date.
  • More background: Dean Kamen's introductory video here [].
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Kamen's New Hampshire-based medical products company (perhaps best known for the Segway), is a two-year $18.1 million 2007 effort to give amputees an advanced prosthesis that could be available immediately "for people who want to literally strap it on and go." Kamen's team designed the Deka arm to be controlled with noninvasive measures, using an interface a bit like a joystick.

    Its more like remote control IMO Bionic includes direct neural feedback.
  • Kamen talks about the origin of this arm in a brief TEDtalk, here. []

    The video includes a brief demo.

    - RG>
  • "Cool! Nice arm, Joe!"

    "Thanks! Here, lemme plug it into the computer. Check out all these grips I can select."

    "Chuck grip. Key grip. Power grip. Hey, what's Charlizetheron grip?"

    "Uhhh...that's for sweeping, yeah, sweeping!"

"This is lemma 1.1. We start a new chapter so the numbers all go back to one." -- Prof. Seager, C&O 351