For years, I have been interested in NextGen prosthetics. They've made it into presentations I gave in 2017, 18 and 19 to CIOs. I referenced them in a collection of innovation thinking from 2012. There are millions affected globally by limb loss, but an even greater amount of people suffer from limited mobility - the CDC estimates this percentage at 18.6%.
So, is this how we become empathetic machines?
A team of scientists hooked up a robotic exoskeleton to a neural interface, allowing a patient who lost his foot and lower leg to control the powered system - with his thoughts.
A team of scientists hooked up a robotic exoskeleton to a neural interface, allowing a patient who lost his foot and lower leg to control the powered system with his thoughts.
By combining the robotic prosthesis with sensors that could pick up the signals sent down to the foot by the man’s brain, the system allowed for a far greater range of movement and more control than exoskeletons are typically capable of, according to a study published this month in the journal Wearable Technologies. While it took a great deal of physical therapy to get the patient to the point where he could steer the technology with his thoughts, IEEE Spectrum reports, it represents a major upgrade in the pursuit to give people total control over new robotic limbs.
“That stability and subtle control while standing was pretty surprising,” lead study author and North Carolina State University biomedical engineer told IEEE Spectrum.
Typically, robotic exoskeletons will come preprogrammed with motions like walking to help their wearers get around. But by handing the keys over to the actual person, a wide variety of new movements suddenly became possible.
While we can teach rote skills or movement combinations to robotic interfaces and devices, what we can help them do yet is resemble true human movement, especially not in the nearly unconscious way we do. When you connect to the brain, you enable all that "muscle memory" and natural encoding to come to the fore. When our reflexes and brain are functioning together, we will automatically put our hands up to catch a ball tossed to us.
Allowing people to develop their own mobility and control while wearing a prosthetic enables not just better control for the individual but an increased opportunity for observation so we can learn how the nervous system interacts with these personalized devices.
This is especially important as we age - with concomitant musculature changes and potential cognitive decline. Studying these aspects simultaneously may allow us to increase the understanding of the individual areas as well.
For me, this is personal. I have family members facing both significant mobility and cognitive challenges. So, I am open to opinions, ideas and ways of thinking about brain/body/device connections.
Hit me up in the comments. -c-