In the past several years scientists have delivered a slew of advances in wiring prosthetic limbs directly to the brain. A number of studies have reported that severely disable patients – or monkeys employed as research surrogates – have used bionic limbs controlled by thought to, say, pick up a cup or hold up a hand and give a high five.
Many biologist are willing to accept money from the Department of Defense (DOD), on the grounds that innovations such as better prosthetics and improved mental-health treatments are needed no matter who is paying for them. And Ling insists that understands the concerns; every programed in the BTO has a bioethics advisory board. Besides, he says, if visionary bio technologies are inevitable, then it is duty to race ahead and invent them.
If the research holds, breakthroughs like these could lead to a reassessment of disable people as “bionic” and fully able, and lead to a new era of mind-controlled gadgets
There are other high-tech prosthetics that will push these boundaries further, like the C-Leg, and the Utah Arm (see list below). They include super-durable materials like titanium, as well as powerful chips that accurate replicate the lightning –fast reaction time of the brain.
The C-Leg: This bio-gadget adjusts the flow of hydraulic fluid within a leg, through force sensors and a microprocessor rig that reads data at 50-times per second (similar to the one used on the monkeys.) The sensors detect any loading of the foot and ankle, and understand the exact angle of the knee joint, which is necessary for correct locomotion. It currently costs around $40,000.
Perhaps the best example to data is a robotic lower leg developed at the Rehabilitation Institution of Chicago. Scientist here fitted a cylindrical grid of 96 electrodes to the thigh of Zac Vawter. Now 32 years old, after his lower leg had been amputated following a motorcycle accident in 209.
Direct brain-to-prosthesis links will still be needed someday for patient whose damaged spinal cords impede nerve signals to the limbs. Until then, plugging into peripheral nerve outlets may help some of the million leg amputees in the U.S. go for a smoother stroll.