Looking at the Future of Prosthetics

One of the coolest things about movies for me is prosthetic limbs and cyborg humans. From Luke Skywalker to Bucky Barnes to Cable, it seems like everyone is getting their arms chopped off and replaced with a prosthetic, and I find it cool that the technology is getting closer and closer to providing truly functional limbs.

While some of the technology is still within the realm of science fiction and there are certainly some challenges, replacing limbs with machines is still a very real idea and it’s being done across the world for veterans and other victims.

Challenges of Prosthetic Limbs

One of the two functions of a prosthetic arm that is still being worked on is sensory feedback. The way that most prosthetics work is that they fit on the stump of an arm or leg that is left behind. When the amputee moves the stump it sends signals down the arm to simulate natural movement and the brain then tells the prosthetic what to do.

However, this relationship does have to be precise as the replacement limb needs to be in a certain spot on the stump to receive and use the signal, and having the prosthetic slip off the stump can cause some problems, discomfort, and expensive repairs, all of which make this type of limb difficult to use in rural areas.

Two Camps and One Need.

As my research continued I found that most engineers working on the prosthetic legs are trying to improve the ‘socket based joints’ to be more comfortable and put less stress on the body. Several others, however, are working on limbs that can integrate with the entire body, which is closer to the science fiction I know and love.

This is either done through attaching metal to a bone and having the bone grow around the metal, or by using the human brain to give sensory knowledge to the prosthetic. This can be accomplished through sensors that detect the temperature and pressure of an object and transmit that data back to the brain via the remaining flesh on the arm.

I also found that the arm could even use computer technology when tasked with grabbing an object, as an algorithm will automatically determine how to grab the object effectively and then position the fingers in the way it thinks is best. The user just has to close the hand and they’ve picked up the object.

Not So Future Technology

While some of the prosthetic limbs we see in movies are just movie magic, the basic concepts behind them aren’t that far from reality and are helping millions of amputees and veterans all around the world. With every new advance in prosthetic technology, more and more people with lost limbs will be able to experience the same feelings at the people with limbs.

That was the coolest part of my research, being able to read about all these advancements happening in the world, and then knowing that they were going to help people in need and change a lot of lives.