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Medicine Hardware Technology

"Manhattan Project" For Prosthetic Arms 76

cortex tips us to a story about a nationwide effort to incorporate advanced technology into the next generation of prosthetic arms. Researchers for the DARPA-funded project are developing feedback techniques that range from sensors on the surface of the user's skin to electrodes implanted on the inside of the user's skull that intercept and interpret signals from the motor cortex. Quoting: "'Think about taking a sip from a can of soda,' Harshbarger says. The complex neural feedback system connecting a native limb to its user lets that user ignore an entire series of complicated steps. The nervous system makes constant automatic adjustments to ensure, for example, that the tilt of the wrist adjusts to compensate for the changing fluid level inside the can. The action requires little to no attention. Not so for the wearer of current prosthetic arms, for whom the act of taking a sip of soda precludes any other activity. The wearer must first consciously direct the arm to extend it to the correct point in space, then switch modes to rotate the wrist into proper position. Then he must open the hand, close it to grasp the soda can (not so weakly as to drop it but not so hard as to crush it), switch modes to bend the elbow to correctly place the can in front of his mouth, rotate the wrist into position, and then concentrate on drinking from the can of soda without spilling it."
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"Manhattan Project" For Prosthetic Arms

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  • Obvious (Score:5, Insightful)

    by rrohbeck ( 944847 ) on Friday March 21, 2008 @02:20AM (#22816482)
    Research into prosthetics always blooms during and after a war.
    Of course it's a good thing for civil injuries too, but it's still a sad occasion.
    • Re:Obvious (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Hal_Porter ( 817932 ) on Friday March 21, 2008 @03:59AM (#22816912)
      Actually DARPA are funding a project to regrow limbs in adult mammals too []
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Prosthetics hide the visible damage, and make it somewhat possible to function again on a physical level. But where is the influx of money for treating alcoholism, drug abuse, post traumatic stress disorder, lack of sexual appetite leading to divorce, alienation from your children, nightmares, hypervigillence leading to domestic and public violence, inability to settle causing homelessness, random startle responses and inappropriate behaviour that means you can't hold down a job, birth defects, depression a
    • If only there were a programme to provide prosthetic nervous systems for the hundreds of thousands of veterans who have and will return from Iraq and Afghanistan physically OK, but mentally scarred for life. There's a gigantic PTSD time-bomb [] that's going to be blowing up for decades to come in the form of alcholism, drug addiction, ruined families and wrecked lives. In 30 years' time they'll be able to start crunching the numbers on the number of vets who end up dying prematurely. That's the real cost of th
      • Oh Shut up with the political bickering on every topic... Yes there is a way and the government is not putting the appropriate resources into it. Look at anything that you think the government should or needs to handle... they are not putting enough resources into it... Stop Pining every message board and actually do something useful.
    • Yeah, let's spend a trillion dollars sending soldiers to get their limbs blown off, then another mind boggling fortune to develop new limbs for them. I'm all for medical advances, but in this case prevention sure beats the cure.
  • by Foobar of Borg ( 690622 ) on Friday March 21, 2008 @02:24AM (#22816506)
    One recipient of a new prosthetic hand crushed his pewter goblet and proclaimed that the new prosthetic hand was "Groovy!"
    • Ash had to be the greatest genius ever to create a hydraulic goblet-crushing prosthetic hand with middle-age technology.
      • by HTH NE1 ( 675604 )
        Well, he did have the opportunity to cannibalize less essential parts of his 1973 Oldsmobile Delta 88 for it. Still, that would put him ahead of MacGyver.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Mobile Infantry made me the man I am today!
  • by LakeSolon ( 699033 ) * on Friday March 21, 2008 @02:54AM (#22816670) Homepage
    From the summary:

    Inventor Dean Kamen previews the extraordinary prosthetic arm he's developing at the request of the Department of Defense, to help the 1,600 "kids" who've come back from Iraq without an arm (and the two dozen who've lost both arms). Kamen's commitment to using technology to solve problems, and his respect for the human spirit, have never been more clear than in this deeply moving clip. []
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      The online video of Kamen's talk is well worth watching. Dean is a smart guy, but even he didn't think that this was possible at first. Then he saw some of the existing technology and thought about the impact that an advanced prosthetic arm would have on these folks. Now he's one of the people making this happen.

      While a prosthetic arm that allows more sensitive touch will have a positive impact on the folks who need this technology, it may also lead to spin offs in other areas. Anyone care to speculat

  • by Radium Eyes ( 1041164 ) on Friday March 21, 2008 @02:56AM (#22816678)
    So it's an arms race, then?
    • by CptNerd ( 455084 )

      So it's an arms race, then?

      They're just working to get a leg up on the competition.

    • by tgd ( 2822 )
      Thats the bomb!
    • I always thought the next generation of prosthetic arms would allow you to store up so much energy, your entire body would appear to blink and make a weird noise. You could then release that energy toward any given direction. Also, you should have a rapid-fire button built into the arm. We would call this the mega-buster.
    • by dkf ( 304284 )

      So it's an arms race, then?
      And these must be nuclear arms, right?
  • Hmmm. Dr. Octopus? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by WindBourne ( 631190 ) on Friday March 21, 2008 @04:34AM (#22817022) Journal
    I wonder, DARPA is doing a lot of work on doing neural interfaces, as well. It would be interesting if this could be combined to give a person more arms, esp if just temporary (say a 1 year stint). In addition, I would think that all this work on arms for ppl, will apply to pure robotics.
    • by bhima ( 46039 ) *
      I'm left handed. An arm nearly as dextrous as my left... that would be *really* useful. My right... about the only thing I can really do with it is type and hold things still. Having another one of those wouldn't be all that useful.

      • I was not suggesting this a replacements, but as extras. If you are in the field in iraq/afghastan (or wherever our next war is at), you would find 6 extra arms EXTREMELY useful. Esp. if they have a bit of intelligence in each. Heck, the ability to equip one or 2 arms with a gun or perhaps a laser would be awesome.
        • by bhima ( 46039 ) *
          I understood your point. And I was thinking another arm as dextrous as my right arm would be mostly useless. However another nearly as dextrous as my left would be really useful and useful in more mundane situations... in the lab running experiments or soldering circuit boards. I'd be really, really, really happy with a set of fully functional micro-prosthesis (Well described in the short story 'Burning Chrome by William Gibson as 'Waldos')... provided I did not have to sacrifice my existing arms!

          I have
          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by WindBourne ( 631190 )
            Personally, I am not interested in the extra arm. But, if I were serving, I would like to have every advantage that I can. And considering that this is the US DOD that is funding it, they will probably consider similar ideas.

            As to you last line, I am not sure how old you are, but typically as you get older your POV will change. When I was 18, I signed up for ROTC so that I could fly. My father (a decorated air force pilot and then airline pilot) talked me out of it. How? He told me to get the air force t
            • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

              As time went on, we realized that it was actually weaponry that we were developing (DOD had other intentions based on how they were changing our protocols). As a young man, I thought that it was abhorrent and left the project. Now, as I watch China's military building up, I know that the work that I was doing actually could make a difference. The reason is that Chinese leaders are gearing up for a war. The problem is that they have MANY times the troops levels that we have. The major thing that holds them in check is that they KNOW we have a very high tech advantage. But with their continuing theft of our military secrets and W. having tied us up in Iraq, combined with our monster growing deficits, it is only a matter of time before they are equal to us (from the chinese leaders POV).

              The difference you made could have been simply designing more technology to fall into China's hands, too. Look, we know China might get a little anxious about putting down its immediate neighbors, but they won't be going to war with us. In fact, war between the United States and China is nearly impossible, since neither side can afford it. Wars between superpowers across oceans are expensive and protracted by nature, which means a robust economy is required. If China starts a war, they will lose trade wit

    • by Ledgem ( 801924 )
      That's a really neat idea. I'd imagine that it'd take people time to get used to it (and some probably would never become proficient with controlling it effectively, if at all) but that'd be very useful. Can you imagine how weird it'd feel to use it for even a few months and suddenly not have it anymore, though?
  • by nguy ( 1207026 )
    Ah, yes, Mantrid arms [], weapons of mass destruction.
  • I am missing my left hand....long story. This is great, now when they are in my price range (if I'm still alive) and I get one, I can crush the skull of anyone who kept the price high in my cyborg hand.
  • Yeah, my right hand is pretty much useless due to a birth defect, so I'm always interested in the development of alternatives ;)

    But what I'd REALLY like is some mechadendrites, WH40K Mechanicus style!

    Praise the omnissiah!

    Compulsory Wiki link for the confused: []
  • I'd imagine that soldiers with stronger, faster limbs and such would be an advantage...
    But personally, if I were to lose a limb, I'd be much happier with something that both resembled and worked as the old one did.

    Since we can now replace things like knee and hip joints, and since the structure (as opposed to the additional functions) of the bone is well understood, I see no reason why artificial "bones" can't be designed to replace the damaged or missing ones. Then, with tissue grafting (fairly well establ
  • Great NEWS!

    The "Manhattan Project" for prosthetics is just what we need. We MUST get those prosthetic arms before the Nazis do. Let's send every prosthetic scientist in the country to the middle of nowhere New Mexico. We must have utmost secrecy on this so no one knows what we are doing. Our country's security depends on this. Only when it is perfected can we drop this on an unknowing Baghdad and win the war in one quick stroke, preventing a long, drawn out invasion of Iraq.

    (When analogies go bad, next
  • a small child doesn't adjust cup while drinking, they'll spill if they're not using a lidded training cup. The brain has to learn to do those complicated automatic adjustments and it takes a very long time. so that can be true for prosthetic limbs too, if it takes a year to learn how to properly control one to drink from a glass without conscious effort that's still a much shorter time than it took us to learn with natural limbs! putting such automatic features into an artificial limb could very well be
  • Are they nuclear arms?
  • When will they begin work on whole prosthetic bodies?

    Shirow promised us a cyberpunk future, and I want my moon base too!!!

  • The complicated series of maneuvers in the summary is challenging for a 2-year old as well, and takes months or years to perfect. The smoothness of the activity to an adult is based upon years of practice. I mention this because the article doesn't seem to mention that even with a bijillion sensors (even tied directly into the brain stem) and lots of axis/control that the learning curve would be shortened.

    A well-trained backhoe operator can do amazing things whereas a newbie would be hard-pressed to deal
  • Going to a VA hospital can be hard for some people because it can bring back painful feelings about their military experiences. The staff and volunteers at VA hospitals are careful about creating a safe atmosphere. Last week I was back in the prosthetics department at the Seattle VA hospital to be fitted for a brace. The place is cramped. The narrow hallway makes it tricky to maneuver gurneys in and out of the fitting rooms. The place is in a basement. The patients there have lost more than those t
  • Cant they just use a straw and one of those beer-can hats or something?
  • The whole idea about dropping the can isn't very good at all - if the arm can raise the can an inch off the surface, the little finger can be swung under the can to stop it falling out of the grip.

    It's just an excuse for the current set of control systems not being able to handle movements for all five digits in real time.

When a fellow says, "It ain't the money but the principle of the thing," it's the money. -- Kim Hubbard