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Improving the Abilities of Bionic Arm Patients

Soulskill posted more than 5 years ago | from the you-and-what-e-arm dept.

Biotech 46

Al writes "Tech Review has an article about the progress being made on prosthetic arms that can be controlled using nerves that once connected to the missing limb via muscles in the chest. Todd Kuiken, director of the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago's Center for Bionic Medicine has pioneered the technique, which has so far given more than 30 patients the ability to control a mechanical prosthetic simply by thinking about moving their old arm. Those who have had the procedure report using their arm to slice hot peppers, open a bag of flour, put on a belt, operate a tape measure, or remove a new tennis ball from a container. The next step is to add sensing capabilities to the arms so that this information can be fed back to the reconnected nerves."

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46 comments

The big question: (4, Funny)

DurendalMac (736637) | more than 5 years ago | (#27709853)

Can you safely whack off with the bionic arm? It's like giving yourself a stranger!

Re:The big question: (1)

Kamokazi (1080091) | more than 5 years ago | (#27709889)

If by 'safe', you mean 'not damaged beyond re-attachability' then probably.

Re:The big question: (4, Funny)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | more than 5 years ago | (#27709997)

More along the lines of "giving yourself an inhuman mechanical claw"; but if that's how you roll...

Re:The big question: (3, Funny)

gad_zuki! (70830) | more than 5 years ago | (#27710369)

No, but in this sales video [gametrailers.com] you'll find how to easily win the hearts of attractive blonde women.

Re:The big question: (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27710377)

Comeon now, ppl, let me use my points... That was frickin funny!

Re:The big question: (2, Informative)

Ragzouken (943900) | more than 5 years ago | (#27711193)

Well if it isn't, there's always the bionic penis.

I just lost my arm (0, Offtopic)

Dripdry (1062282) | more than 5 years ago | (#27709855)

....so it might be hard to get first post!

Born 50 years too early. (1)

Weedhopper (168515) | more than 5 years ago | (#27709859)

It's shit like this that makes me want to be alive 100 and 150 years from now. Not because I want to live forever but because think about all the cool shit those guys are gonna have.

Re:Born 50 years too early. (1)

Fwipp (1473271) | more than 5 years ago | (#27709885)

It's stuff like this that means we just might be alive 100 or 150 years from now. Just have to get some more vital organ replacements, and we'll be golden...

Re:Born 50 years too early. (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27709949)

Appreciate what you have today. Take a look at current technology that helps quality of life.

Re:Born 50 years too early. (1)

alohatiger (313873) | more than 5 years ago | (#27709971)

I thought that 100 to 150 years from now, the last human survivors will be scraping by in the ruins of our civilization.

Assuming that there's anybody left at all.

Re:Born 50 years too early. (2, Interesting)

Garrett Fox (970174) | more than 5 years ago | (#27710201)

Do you want to prevent that? If so, work to protect human freedom. More tech-toys that way, too.

Re:Born 50 years too early. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27710031)

Then again, instead of wishing for what you'll never have, you can be thankful for what you do.

Try going for a while without all electronic stuff and gadgets, appliances they didn't have back then, cars, internet, TV, power, gas, hot water, city water/sewage, trash collection and so on. Or modern medecine (it's crazy what they used to do not that long ago).

We got it easy these days.

I'm not sure the future is really going to be any better (possible wars and so on -- you never know).

Re:Born 50 years too early. (2, Interesting)

Weedhopper (168515) | more than 5 years ago | (#27710335)

I spend 9/10 months of the year working for a very well regarded humanitarian aid NGO.

If I am in your country on an assignment, it's likely because it's because there is either a war, massive natural disaster or a public health emergency beyond the capability of the locals to handle.

So yeah, most of the year, I don't have electronics, gadgets, internet, TV, electricity, running water, hot water, trash collection or city water/sewage.

So yes, please tell me again how to appreciate the things I have now.

Re:Born 50 years too early. (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27710957)

I didn't know we had switched over to metric years already. I'd better go buy new calendars!

How about--born without an arm? (1)

Sybert42 (1309493) | more than 5 years ago | (#27710149)

Then you'd get a first cut at this stuff. Are we geeky enough?

i bet (3, Funny)

Durin00 (530952) | more than 5 years ago | (#27709897)

one of these things cost an arm & a leg!

Go ahead! Make my day! (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27709963)

I know I'll get modded down for this, but I've just got to say it:

The only way to guarantee that you'll get modded up is to say that you'll get modded down.

Re:Go ahead! Make my day! (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27709995)

Mod parent up!

Re:Go ahead! Make my day! (3, Funny)

Arthur Grumbine (1086397) | more than 5 years ago | (#27710441)

I know I'll get modded down for this, but, hmmm...Let's test this out...

Re:Go ahead! Make my day! (1, Funny)

Arthur Grumbine (1086397) | more than 5 years ago | (#27710455)

Mod parent up!

Any idea why they have to move the nerves? (2, Interesting)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | more than 5 years ago | (#27710025)

TFA mentions that they have to relocate the remaining nerves(the chest seems to be a popular destination); but doesn't say why. Do the nerves atrophy if they are left in the stump? Is there some sort of feedback mechanism by which a nerve can detect whether or not it is still connected to a muscle?

Re:Any idea why they have to move the nerves? (4, Interesting)

Garrett Fox (970174) | more than 5 years ago | (#27710237)

I think what they're doing is sensing electrical signals generated by the muscles rather than directly by the nerves, and the nerve-moving is just done to route the usual mental input through that patch of (pectoral) muscle. That way you don't have to teach yourself to flex your pecs to move the robot arm; you try to control the missing arm and the signals are routed to the chest muscle, where they're read by the machine.

Re:Any idea why they have to move the nerves? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27711375)

I don't get it... what's funny about this?

Re:Any idea why they have to move the nerves? (1)

maxume (22995) | more than 5 years ago | (#27712885)

I think it is largely logistical; moving the nerves to the chest makes it easier to reliably and comfortably interface with them (from what I have seen, strapping something to the stump is hard enough on the skin without having whatever else adding pressure points and whatnot).

Dear Slashdot, (5, Funny)

Mr. Conrad (1461097) | more than 5 years ago | (#27710041)

I'm a one-armed commando in need of a bionic arm. However, I was hoping to acquire one with a grappling hook attachment instead of the ubiquitous mechanized hand replacements. I have reason to believe that Imperialist Nazis are trying to resurrect Adolf Hitler and believe a grappling hook would help me stop them, especially when my underdeveloped leg muscles and inability to jump vertically, diagonally, or horizontally are taken into account. Does anyone know where I might find such a gadget? Any information is greatly appreciated.

Sincerely,
Ladd

Not impressed with any mechanical arms (2, Interesting)

zymano (581466) | more than 5 years ago | (#27710047)

Something is missing still. Do we know the language of nerve impulses?

Re:Not impressed with any mechanical arms (5, Informative)

elthicko (1399175) | more than 5 years ago | (#27710109)

We may not fully understand the complex calculations going on in the brain, but we do know that for motor control basically an electrical signal propagates down an axon which connects to a muscle. Once the electrical signal reaches the end there is a chemical reaction which triggers the muscle contraction. There are usually multiple axons connecting to a muscle (the amount active controlling the amount of contraction). So if you take the ends of these axons connecting to residual muscle from the amputated limb and measure the electrical signal you can determine whether the brain is trying to activate that muscle or not. Then you have an algorithm controlling your prosthesis to turn on a motor instead of a muscle.

Re:Not impressed with any mechanical arms (1)

masshuu (1260516) | more than 5 years ago | (#27710193)

so what if we attach this to something like an airplane or a crane? You don't need to have your head drilled open to have implants inserted, all you would need is a small operation(possibly just some local anesthetic and open the skin) to attach a device to a cut off nerve(be it a missing arm, a leg, a hand, etc)

Re:Not impressed with any mechanical arms (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27710331)

Yes, but you'd have to forfeit the control of a body part. And then you'd have to have the thing you're linked to only accept as much input as the limb you've forfeited had. So (for example), you couldn't cut off a pinkie and hook a keyboard up to it - the pinkie can only do six things (clench/unclench/"bow"/"straighten"/move-away-from-ring-finger/move-towards-ring-finger), and not very well at that. You might be able to hook a mouse up though (clench for click, unclench for right-click, the other four handling the 4 axes).

Re:Not impressed with any mechanical arms (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27710603)

Something is missing still. Do we know the language of nerve impulses?

We actually do know quite a lot about the language of nerve impulses, like how repeated stimulating of a post-synaptic neuron in the central nervous system either increases or decreases its response depending on the frequency and amplitude of the stimulation.

The muscle, however, is much simpler than the brain. Muscle contraction is basically frequency modulated: a nerve impulse to the muscle causes a single depolarization of the muscle cell membrane, resulting in a short twitch. Repeated high-frequency impulses (say, 100 Hz) result in the fusing of twitches into a continuous contraction called tetanus. Because these twitches are brief and numerous, and because different muscle cells contract at slightly different times (depending on their innervation), the muscle contraction is perceived as smooth.

Re:Not impressed with any mechanical arms (1)

interkin3tic (1469267) | more than 5 years ago | (#27710927)

Do we know the language of nerve impulses?

Yes, it's called sodium and potassium permeability.

Re:Not impressed with any mechanical arms (1)

kinnell (607819) | more than 5 years ago | (#27711347)

Do we know the language of nerve impulses?

Do we need to? It's likely easier for a brain to learn to communicate with a motor than it is for a motor to learn to communicate with a brain.

Still a Kludge / Pay Attention to the Low End Too (2, Interesting)

Garrett Fox (970174) | more than 5 years ago | (#27710223)

This is good progress, but still a kludge because it uses muscles rather than a direct nerve attachment.

It's also worth following the attempts that've been made on the extreme low-end of the budget scale, to upgrade traditional prosthetics. (What is that one type called? Troutman Hook?) I'm more interested in the bionic ones because they're versatile and cool, but it's also important to consider who can afford the tech and to make it as widely available as practical.

Re:Still a Kludge / Pay Attention to the Low End T (1)

oneirophrenos (1500619) | more than 5 years ago | (#27710559)

This is good progress, but still a kludge because it uses muscles rather than a direct nerve attachment.

I don't know what you mean by that, because TFA says that the motors are controlled by nerves. For example, the nerves that used to innervate her biceps were just rewired to other muscles after the amputation, so that now they can take those nerves and connect them to the motors that clench the forearm. The motors therefore act as muscles, though obviously in a different physiological manner.

Re:Still a Kludge / Pay Attention to the Low End T (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27716167)

It's a lot better than nothing, but it's a kludge in the sense that you can see these people's chest muscles contorting whenever they move their bionic arm.

Re:Still a Kludge / Pay Attention to the Low End T (1)

interkin3tic (1469267) | more than 5 years ago | (#27710977)

This is good progress, but still a kludge because it uses muscles rather than a direct nerve attachment.

Don't quote me on this, but I'm assuming its because unconnected axons don't fire or degenerate too quickly to be used. I'm more certain that unopposed synapses are unstable and not functional, you don't want neurons just dumping neurotransmitter into nothing. I know that in development, some neurons require functional synapses for survival, and unconnected projections from neurons disappear. So I'd guess that if you have a motorneuron running into an arm that wasn't there anymore, the axon might go through cycles of formation and degeneration, or might not transmit an impulse at all, unless it had a synapse, which it wouldn't have unless there was something to synapse with. I suspect it's more complicated than that, or I'm completely off, since biology is always more complicated than theory, let alone half-informed theory.

If you do need something to anchor the axon like that, you probably wouldn't need to use muscles you use for other things. They were testing a concept here, if it pans out they might transplant some muscle cells to the stump of the limb, re-innervate that, and then use those axons. The muscles would still flex but wouldn't be moving anything. Or maybe not, I really don't know anything about surgery and very little about neurobiology.

I'd say... (1)

religious freak (1005821) | more than 5 years ago | (#27710297)

We've got about 20 years (tops) before these things become better than human hands (more powerful, less fatigue, etc).

Singularity, baby!!

Re:I'd say... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27710579)

Modern robotics still use regular motors for movement, which makes for low reactivity and clunky movement. Even asimo shows a definite lack of dexterity. Learning to translate nerve output into signals for movement is fine and dandy, but responsive and fast artificial muscles are an absolute necessity before mechanical arms begin to surpass natural ones.

Carbon nanotube muscle tech, I'm looking your way. I'm so looking your way.

Re:I'd say... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27723415)

before these things become better than human hands (more powerful, less fatigue, etc).

Patient: "But doctor, will I be able to play piano with this bionic hand?"

Doctor: "Certainly!"

Patient: "Cool, I never could!"

Most requested improvement ... (1)

fahrbot-bot (874524) | more than 5 years ago | (#27710469)

Audio effects -- zha na na na ...

fak98 (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27711941)

This is excellent news. I hope that this gets cheap enough to be common place for people who have lost limbs.

But I cannot help but think that it'll not be long until "We are the Borg."

DEKA bionic arm on 60 minutes (1)

cortex (168860) | more than 5 years ago | (#27712193)

Good video at 60 minutes about the bionic arms [cbsnews.com] being developed by DARPA for this project.

Re:DEKA bionic arm on 60 minutes (1)

maxume (22995) | more than 5 years ago | (#27713053)

One really nice thing about that video is that it shows how cool actual amputees think this technology is, as opposed to how lame (a surprising amount of) people with 2 functional hands seem to think it is.

Misread (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27723023)

I read that as Improving the Abilities of Bionic Arm Patents ...

dept tag--worst pun ever (1)

adavies42 (746183) | more than 5 years ago | (#27725137)

can i just say that the dept. tag on this is possibly the worst pun i've ever seen on slashdot?
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