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Bionic Arm Provides Hope for Amputees 138

Posted by Zonk
from the thinking-differently dept.
Static-MT writes to mention a CNN article about what doctors are referring to as the first thought-controlled artificial limb. Arm owner Jesse Sullivan has two prosthetic limbs, and the left one is an advanced prototype in development by the folks at DARPA. From the article: "Sullivan's bionic arm represents an advance over typical artificial arms, like the right-arm prosthesis he uses, which has a hook and operates with sequential motions. There is no perceivable delay in the motions of Sullivan's flesh-colored, plastic-like left arm. Until now, it has been nearly impossible to recreate the subtle and complex motion of a human arm."
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Bionic Arm Provides Hope for Amputees

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  • by Kingrames (858416) on Thursday September 14, 2006 @12:51PM (#16106543)
    ...Mostly 'armless?
  • I approve of this little internet thing of theirs too (sorry Al).
    • by mordors9 (665662) on Thursday September 14, 2006 @01:37PM (#16107113)
      The geeks back in the lab couldn't get a date, wanted to keep both hands on the keyboard, so they thought.... hmmm "how about a thought controlled body part to pleasure myself." Of course being geeks they decided on a hand....
    • This is why science kicks ass. I've seen posts about how people who have lost/never had limbs adapt to the necessities of lacking a certain functionality, and they should be lauded for not giving up when life kicks them in the nuts. And while it is true that if they never had that functionality, they can't miss it, it's harder to adjust to not having it if it is a new way of life as opposed to the only one ever known.

      What this means is that someone in a similar situation has a choice. Instead of being "

  • Hear hear (Score:5, Funny)

    by OSS_ilation (922367) on Thursday September 14, 2006 @12:52PM (#16106564)
    Lets give this guy a hand.
  • by payndz (589033) on Thursday September 14, 2006 @12:54PM (#16106585)
    But does he have to "theeeenk in Rrrrrussian"?
  • by MrSenile (759314) on Thursday September 14, 2006 @12:54PM (#16106590)
    We can rebuild him.

    Rebuild him... better... stronger... faster...

  • The next step (Score:4, Interesting)

    by rob_squared (821479) <rob AT rob-squared DOT com> on Thursday September 14, 2006 @12:55PM (#16106597)
    What I'd really like to see is the other end of the equation, actual touch perception. And I don't mean if you feel the shock when hitting something with the arm, I mean feeling textures, or perhaps it'd be easier to start off with hot/cold sensors, since we know how to do that with existing equipment.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      "What I'd really like to see is the other end of the equation, actual touch perception. And I don't mean if you feel the shock when hitting something with the arm, I mean feeling textures, or perhaps it'd be easier to start off with hot/cold sensors, since we know how to do that with existing equipment." Honestly, I think that's not important in the least right now. Perfecting this arm for motion would be far more important right now. The sheer idea of having a useable ARM is simple wonderful for an ampute
      • Re:The next step (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Doc Ruby (173196) on Thursday September 14, 2006 @01:19PM (#16106889) Homepage Journal
        Easy for you to say (assuming your nervous system is intact). Every para/quadraplegic ("paralyzed") person I know has told me they much prefer getting senation back than motion. We already have all kinds of tech for motion that need not be bionic - down to the crutch. But sensation is even more important to feeling human. And in various scenarios, we're all blind/deaf/numb.

        This bionic arm is is an excellent advance, and worthy of every congratulation. But when talking about "the next step", the experts say it's sensation.
    • Re:The next step (Score:5, Informative)

      by plalonde2 (527372) on Thursday September 14, 2006 @01:12PM (#16106812)
      If you check out the various videos, they also have a short demo of touch: the same re-wiring of nerves to the pectoral muscle can be used for feedback. In the case of the female patient, she has two fingers worth of touch, and it's pressure sensitive.
      Very impressive.
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by dr_dank (472072)
        the same re-wiring of nerves to the pectoral muscle can be used for feedback. In the case of the female patient, she has two fingers worth of touch,

        So when you shake her bionic hand, she feels it on her chest?

        Oh man, this is gonna be good...
        • Re:The next step (Score:5, Interesting)

          by giblfiz (125533) on Thursday September 14, 2006 @02:50PM (#16107875)
          I know this was a joke, but actually it's pretty interesting. She doesn't feel it on her chest she feels it on her arm (the one that isn't their anymore). The weird thing is that their are parts of her chest that you can poke her in, and she will feel it in her arm (so its sort of the opposite of what you were suggesting)

          This, of course is the result of some pretty cutting edge surgery.
          • The weird thing is that their are parts of her chest that you can poke her in, and she will feel it in her arm (so its sort of the opposite of what you were suggesting)


            Well then it'll certainly be much more fun when you decide you want to rub her "hand"

            Ok, I'll shut up now :P
            • What's funny, is in the rennisance, rubbing circles or other patterns on the bottom of a woman's hand while kissing it was a highly sexually charged implication for later in the evening.
        • by plalonde2 (527372)
          +1 Funny.

          But seriously, the nice deal about this is that she feels it in her fingers, not her chest. That's the nice thing about re-routing the nerves. The chest is just a nice, large, convenient landing spot.
      • by BlenderFX (954511)
        I would definitely watch the videos if they weren't Windows Media! Go to hell, CNN!
      • by solitas (916005)
        So, according to the second section, they're re-wiring dead-ended nerves to the muscles for them to act as _amplifiers_ for the arm's electronics?

        1) don't they have decent-enough electronics to sense the nerve impulses directly?

        2) if he jabs (artifically stimulates) whatever muscle is acting as an amplifier, would that cause the arm to fire the associated channel 'involuntarily'?
    • by timeOday (582209)
      What I'd really like to see is the other end of the equation, actual touch perception.
      Just allow me to turn the nerve coupling off when I need to chop wood or stir boiling soup with my bare robo-hands.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Actually tactile sensation and feedback to the user IS part of this program. There are groups at UC Irvine, Oakridge, and SSSA (in Italy) developing sensors while Univ. Utah and Chicago PT groups are working on haptic feedback systems. If successful this project will truly revolutionize prosthetics.

      And for those who have commented that the sensation of touch would be "icing on the cake" but that movement is more important, I urge you to check out various research that has shown that without systems for affe
  • Only The Begining (Score:5, Interesting)

    by loose electron (699583) on Thursday September 14, 2006 @01:00PM (#16106669) Homepage
    Medical electronics are just entering a new age.

    Research now ongoing that I am aware of:
    -- Transponder system to provide electronic relay between severed spinal cord sections.
    -- Artificial eye that connects to the optic nerve.

    Those two are "out there" with no products out in time for christmas. :)

    However there are heaps of things now on the market (pacemakers, insulin pumps, etc, etc)
    and more to come. All for the good.
    • by rackhamh (217889)
      Research now ongoing that I am aware of:
      -- Transponder system to provide electronic relay between severed spinal cord sections.
      -- Artificial eye that connects to the optic nerve.


      Links? I'm especially interested in the artificial eye, since I'm blind in one eye myself. I'm sure there are plenty of other Slashdot readers who would be equally interested in learning more about these projects.
      • AFAIK, artificial eye tech wouldn't help in your case unless you managed to get an artifical eye capable of rendering at about the same quality as your working eye. Currently it's just binary lights indicating if something is within a certain threshold range... unless the tech has drasticly improved since I last checked up on it.
  • Wow this is a really great breakthrough at least as far as the article describes it but there are a lot of unanswered questions.

    The mechanism is basically built by connecting the way other nerves and muscles in the body operate when you do a voluntary action such as clenching your hand or flexing your arm. However this is just the muscle patterns and nerve synapses of one man.

    If there is one thing I learned from my failed pre-med career it was that all human bodies interact differently. How will this work
    • by AnFraX (809909)
      Would this have to be custom made for every person?

      I doubt it. I do suspect there will be a lengthy training process each patient has to go through. Think how long it took you to learn to use your arms effectivly after you were born. Something similar will have to happen for these patients.
    • by brunascle (994197)
      from what i remember, the machine has to learn your brain mappings, basically, in the beginning. you are asked to pretend you're moving your arm, and the machine tries to find what parts of your brain are firing, then ties those parts to the act of moving your arm.

      so, no, theres no one-size-fits-all, it has to be individually tailored.
    • nerve endings atrophy after injury; so even if you could "understand" the electrical patterns in the nerves, there would be no "live" nerve endings to hook up to. ~another problem for modern science
    • by amliebsch (724858)
      Probably no need, since your brain is fairly adept at re-wiring itself to adapt to new motor controls. Between your brain and a computer, your brain is ultimately better at that kind of fine-tuning.
    • From the article, I gather that it happens like this: He still has nerves in his chest. When you try to move your arm, you(probably unknowingly) have to move your chest muscles in a certain way as well. They do some readings to determine what moves(or specifically, what nerves are fired) when he tries to perform an operation, and program them into the machine. Then go. So on the topic of whether it will work the same for everyone: it's highly unlikely. The implementation must depend on the extent of w
      • Not exactly. IANAMD, but I'm pretty sure that the procedure involved locating the remaining afferent segments of the musculocutaneous, axillary and radial nerves and re-attaching them to the patient's pectoralis major. Those nerves originate in the spinal cord and travel through the upper chest to get to the arm, so it's not hard to get enough nerve to work with, even with a shoulder-level amputation.

        Controlling the arm is a creative use of phantom limb syndrome, basically. The user thinks "I want to b

  • by SevenHands (984677) on Thursday September 14, 2006 @01:03PM (#16106713)
    I am AllStar, A Robot. I can put my arm back on. You can too!

    Ahhh, childhood memories...
  • another story (Score:2, Informative)

    by brunascle (994197)
    MIT's Technology Review had a similar article [technologyreview.com] in july.

    the have videos (.MOV) of a patient controlling a computer cursor [technologyreview.com] and a prosthetic hand [technologyreview.com]
  • hope? (Score:3, Informative)

    by blackmonday (607916) on Thursday September 14, 2006 @01:05PM (#16106729) Homepage
    I get a little irked at the "hope for amputees thing". One of my best friends has an arm to the elbow only, and he doesn't need any hope - he's just fine. He has adapted well, and there are few things he cannot do. He has a fake arm for cosmetic reasons, and it helps him to grip simple things, but lets get real. Amputees are not hopeless, they can do most things you and I can do, and frankly some of them (my friend included) put their two-limb friends to shame with their dexterity.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by joeytmann (664434)
      But if given the oppertunity I bet your friend would like to have a prostectic that works more like a real arm. No one is calling him or other amputees hopeless, just trying to make an adequate replacement for the real thing.
    • by cp.tar (871488)

      Yeah, OK, you're politically correct. That's nice.

      So your friend - and many others with him have adapted. But ask any of them whether they'd like to get their hands back.
      I know I would, in their place, adapted or not.

    • Dang straight (Score:5, Insightful)

      by cascadingstylesheet (140919) on Thursday September 14, 2006 @01:30PM (#16107027)
      >I get a little irked at the "hope for amputees thing". One of my best
      >friends has an arm to the elbow only, and he doesn't need any hope -
      >he's just fine.

      Yep. My son was born with no arms or legs, and he is amazing. He's still just a baby (OK, almost "toddler") and he rolls everywhere, manipulates stuff with his arm stubs (1" or less), and just astounds us with what he can do.

      He's being fitted for a "training arm" with no elbow now (a lengthy process of taking molds, making "test sockets", checking the fit, coming back, etc.), and I have no idea how he's going to react when he actually gets it. It'll be cool for some things, but I bet his first reaction will be to be ticked off that he can't roll so easily :)
      • Just out of curiosity, and this is not meant to offend you in any way...it is a real serious question...what do you intend to do when your son reaches puberty assuming he does not have an arm capable of the dexterity required to um...."explore his maturity"...? I know this is a very strange question but your sons unique situation for some reason made it pop into my head. Hopefully he'll be a confident lad who won't have any problem finding a girl to do the experimenting for him, but in all seriousness, wh
        • No offense taken, but I won't be discussing my children's sexuality on the internet. Especially not in this context, as there are some people out there with ... unusual tastes. Not accusing you of being one, but they do exist.
    • Re:hope? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by cnelzie (451984) on Thursday September 14, 2006 @01:49PM (#16107231) Homepage
      I bet your friend would like to have a fully functional normal hand back.

          This technology provides the hope, that one day, in his lifetime, the technology will be available in order for him to have a replacement limb that functions exactly as his original meat grown hand functioned.

          That's all the "hope" that was being talked about. Nobody said that people missing limbs are hopeless or completely incapable of adapting.

          I have hope that someday Overly Politically Correct Blinded people will once again be able to open their eyes and see that not everything is as terrible and cynical as they like to make it out to be.
      • by Leonidus (1002959)
        As an amputee myself, although as a result of a birth defect rather than a later-in-life accident, this give me a lot of hope that people like me, who never got to be 'normal' growing up, get a chance to experience things we never had before.

        For me, it's not about outward appearance. My amputation was just below the knee, and I first learned to walk on a prosthesis (and have been all the way into my adult life), so most people can't even tell unless I point it out. It's not about that, though. I would give
        • by cnelzie (451984)
          I wasn't attempting to discount anyone in your position with what I was saying either. I am sorry that it may have appeared that way.
    • by Grishnakh (216268)
      You're exactly right. Amputees don't need hope, since they're able to adapt and do just fine as they are. So we're going to immediately stop all research into medical treatments for amputations or paralysis, prosthetic limbs, etc. as none of these people actually need these things.

      -- the medical community
    • Re: (Score:1, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Amputees are not hopeless, they can do most things you and I can do, and frankly some of them (my friend included) put their two-limb friends to shame with their dexterity.

      Well that's not fair...comparing (single?) amputees to people with only two limbs. How do they fare against those with four limbs?

  • Sweet, just like Luke Skywalker has. I can't wait until these are available for elective surgery (hey Doc, just lop off righty and give me the super-bionic arm). Add this to my Chiba City shopping list, along with the brain implant so I can jack in to the Metaverse.

    Cool links. [blogspot.com]
  • When will this technology cross the line from being restorative (for amputees) and become (for super-soldiers) augmentative?

    Don't think DARPA hasn't already put this on the projected timeline.
    • Well considering that they tried to program super dolphins, I wouldn't put it past them to make super people. (or was that even DARPA?)
    • When will this technology cross the line from being restorative (for amputees) and become (for super-soldiers) augmentative?

      Don't think DARPA hasn't already put this on the projected timeline.
      how is this surprising? it's not some vast conspiracy that the government is trying to hide.

      haven't many of our technological and medical advancement been made in the quest for military empowerment?
      • by Grishnakh (216268)
        I should hope they don't limit any augmentative technology to just super-soldiers. I, for one, would like to have superhuman capabilities without having to join the Army.
      • by Koriani (869587)
        Actually, most of the ones that are government funded came from our desire and exploits into space, not conquest.
      • Who said it was surprising?

        My goal was to raise the issue and set a little hypothetical thought in motion.

        Personally, the idea of the state that gave the human race COINTELPRO [wikipedia.org] and MK ULTRA [wikipedia.org] having the power to deploy bionically-augmented soldiers gives me indigestion.
  • Bionics (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Dan Slotman (974474)
    I think there is great future in bionics. In addition to limbs as discussed in this submission, scientists have various approaches to bionic sight [wired.com] as well. This subject is truly fascinating. Here is a BBC article on a different project [bbc.co.uk].

    Interestingly and unfortunately, much advanced and successful bionics research is being done in South America because of restrictive laws in more typical countries. While I understand the need to protect patients, research for a paper I wrote two years ago indicates tha
  • Oblig. (Score:5, Funny)

    by Klowner (145731) on Thursday September 14, 2006 @01:10PM (#16106796) Homepage
    And that's why you ALWAYS leave a note.
  • Now we just need a bionic eye and leg, too - all for just $6M.
  • The true test... (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward
    "Sullivan's bionic arm represents an advance...There is no perceivable delay in the motions of Sullivan's flesh-colored, plastic-like left arm. Until now, it has been nearly impossible to recreate the subtle and complex motion of a human arm"

    Translation: You know you've got it right when it is once again possible to masturbate.
  • "The suit, built of Durasteel and armorplast-plated Duranium, was built to resemble Krath war droids. His armorplast plates were strong enough to stop a bolt from even a starfighter's laser cannon. Each human-sized hand had four fingers and two opposable thumbs (three digits to each half-arm when they split to produce four arms.) His hands and feet were capable of magnetizing when needed, allowing him to grip on to surfaces with incredible strength, even in zero gravity. His feet also could work perfectly w
  • He [imdb.com] already had this back in 1987!
    • "I thought we agreed on total body prosthesis - now lose the arm!"

      The shoulder attachment segment even looks a little bit like the "demo" arm they had in the lab in that movie - see also http://www.ric.org/bionic/photo3.php [ric.org]. Pity this arm isn't nearly as powerful - apparently it can't even crack a nut, much less break every bone in someone's hand...

  • by PIPBoy3000 (619296) on Thursday September 14, 2006 @01:57PM (#16107334)
    What if he thinks "vibrate quickly"?
  • CNN Reported on this way back in March [cnn.com], what's changed between then and now??

    More information on Jesse Sullivan [wikipedia.org]

    Or better yet, lets Digg [digg.com] the story posted 174 days ago!
    • ...what's changed between then and now?

      That's [cbsnews.com] not Jesse Sullivan. The AP report circulating today was in advance of a press conference to introduce Claudia Mitchell, the first woman to receive one of these arms.

  • by tbone1 (309237)
    Wait, wasn't this the premise for a sketch in the MST3K version of "The Crawling Hand" or something?

  • by vertinox (846076) on Thursday September 14, 2006 @02:04PM (#16107409)
    So when do get full prosthetic bodies?

    Or at least one like hers?
    • Me, I'm holding out for the cyber-brain implants. Who wouldn't want to be able to surf the 'net from the comfort of their very own skull? Just think of how much you could get done during those boring work meetings...

      "And if you'll turn to page 247 of the budget proposal..."

      ::blank eyes as the entire audience is watching cyber-porn::

  • Will it allow amputees to effectively "do the robot?"
  • That's very good, sir. Now REALLY concentrate...
    "HAND, PICK UP THE BALL!"
  • I'll be obsolete! Yay!

    Imagine the embarrassment of losing an arm wrestling match once the prosthetics start to come down in the form factor.
  • I wonder how much Professor Cyborg (Kevin Warwick) [wikipedia.org] and his Project Cyborg [kevinwarwick.com] projects helped with this particular project.

    These robotic limbs give new hope to people with diabetes who had to have their limbs removed. Maybe someday, We will be able to tap into the optic nerve and give people sight through small robotic eyeball or Star Trek like visor.
  • Here's another side of the story, [washingtonpost.com] focussing on Claudia Mitchell, the woman seen in TFA.

  • I watched the video, and this stuff looks great. Very promising for a lot of people. One thing that struck me as odd, though, is how they're using the nerves that were originally used to move the arm to ... well ... move the arm. Given past advances [slashdot.org], does that seem a bit behind the times? Or am I just being overly optimistic?
  • What DARPA needs now is the "Skin" a la P F Hamilton's "Fallen Dragon." Nearly indestructable, provides life support systems for wounded soldiers, embedded weapons systems, strength augmentation, targeting systems, enhanced vision, shared blood supply with reserves, air cleansing, situational awareness, the list goes on. The agility, intelligence, and finesse of a human with the brute force, precision, and durability of a robot.

    Still doesn't do much against terrorists, but it would've won WWII in about 2 da
  • TFA is pretty lax in stating exactly how this is powered. We've gotta have some sort of power, and I know it's not matrix-style body harvesting. You gotta walk around with a 12v car battery, or what?
  • Evolving this process, one may suspect that even one day it may be possible to grow functional brains for amputees like Bush, Gore and Springer....

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