Mind-controlled prosthetic leg displays mobility, functionality

Zac Vawter had his right leg amputated above the knee following a motorcycle accident in 2009. Vawter, a software engineer and native of the Pacific Northwest, was interested in mind-controlled prosthetics even before it was certain he would lose his leg. At the time of the accident, mind-control technology was only available for prosthetic arms, but researchers at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago’s Center for Bionic Medicine have now expanded the technology to legs; Vawter is the test pilot for the new bionic limbs.

Up until recently, the problem with extending the method of mind-controlled arms to amputated legs was the lack of innervated thigh muscles available in amputees—that is, their muscles didn’t have enough nerve endings for the brain to communicate properly with the prosthetic. Doctors surgically reinnervated thigh muscles in amputees,after which the legs could record and process electrical activity in the muscles, allowing signals from the brain to reach them.

As a result of this technique, amputees can’t tell that they are using a prosthetic limb at all. “In my mind” explains Vawter in an interview with Bloomberg, “it’s still the same thing in terms of moving my ankle down or up, or extending my leg forward or back.”

The bionic leg still needs some work before it is commercially available. Freedom Innovations LLC, a prosthetic limb manufacturer based out of Irvine, California, is working on making the bionic prosthetic more compact and less noisy. While it might be a few years before we start seeing these artificial implants traversing our city streets, the advancements in bionic technology are progressing at an impressive rate.

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Mind-controlled prosthetic leg displays mobility, functionality

Zac Vawter had his right leg amputated above the knee following a motorcycle accident in 2009. Vawter, a software engineer and native of the Pacific Northwest, was interested in mind-controlled prosthetics even before it was certain he would lose his leg. At the time of the accident, mind-control technology was only available for prosthetic arms, but researchers at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago’s Center for Bionic Medicine have now expanded the technology to legs; Vawter is the test pilot for the new bionic limbs.

Up until recently, the problem with extending the method of mind-controlled arms to amputated legs was the lack of innervated thigh muscles available in amputees—that is, their muscles didn’t have enough nerve endings for the brain to communicate properly with the prosthetic. Doctors surgically reinnervated thigh muscles in amputees,after which the legs could record and process electrical activity in the muscles, allowing signals from the brain to reach them.

As a result of this technique, amputees can’t tell that they are using a prosthetic limb at all. “In my mind” explains Vawter in an interview with Bloomberg, “it’s still the same thing in terms of moving my ankle down or up, or extending my leg forward or back.”

The bionic leg still needs some work before it is commercially available. Freedom Innovations LLC, a prosthetic limb manufacturer based out of Irvine, California, is working on making the bionic prosthetic more compact and less noisy. While it might be a few years before we start seeing these artificial implants traversing our city streets, the advancements in bionic technology are progressing at an impressive rate.

Did you get your free issue of the Intelligent Optimist?  Click here for a free download.

Solution News Source

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