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The Future of Prosthetic Limbs

Have you ever seen I, Robot? I’m sure there are few people you’ll meet that hasn’t seen this post-modern movie. The film visualizes the future as a robots living side-by-side with humans. The protagonist has a distaste for these mechanical machines and feels they are a danger to human society. What is very interesting and ironic about Will Smith’s character, is that he has a fully functional robotic arm, that even gives him superhuman strength. You couldn’t even tell it was a prosthetic limb, with the ease the character uses his arm. That is exactly what creative minds are showcasing today.

In the distant past, prosthetic limbs were bulky and mainly for cosmetic purposes. In the Greek and Roman times, a Roman general, Marcus Serguis, lost his right hand in the second Punic War. To return to battle, he requested a iron hand that could hold his shield in battle. It was simply a iron mold with no moveable limbs. Now in recent times, you can get a prosthesis that can hold a cup and a pencil for you. You probably even seen some professional runners, with a crescent like extension of their amputated limb. Even with progress made to return the functions of the lost limbs amputees are used too, creative minds still have not stop there.

I’ve created a post about how researchers are connecting the brain to the prosthetics, by using electrical pulses in the brain to trigger motion in the chip-infused artificial limb. Now Stanford researchers are working on another function to these artificial body parts. The ability to feel. By using “two layers of rubbery plastic skin with a flexible circuit printed on it, courtesy of the folks at Xerox Parc” and carbon nanotubes between the two, the prosthesis can “feel” when the two rubbery plastics are pushed closer together. Essentially, when the two layers are pushed together, electricity is conducted and relayed back to the nervous system. Though the researcher at Stanford have figured this out, they are still working on ways to integrated the prosthetic with the human system. One method that is being looked into is optogenetics, which “involves genetically engineered cells so that they react to specific frequencies of light.” They are optimistic that this technology will be more mature in the next few years, and amputees can benefit from a more functional artificial limb.

It is pretty amazing how films like I, Robot makes the efforts of creative minds today seem like a self-fulfilling prophecy of a world enhanced and dominated by digital tech. When prosthesis become more enhanced, I’m sure there will be some people who chop off their own arms for enhanced strength. Maybe even Robocops will become commonplace in the distant-future. Only the future knows the future of prosthetic limbs.

As always, from Around Your Screen

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