Aimee Mullins faced a challenge early in life when she needed to have her legs amputated below the knee. But, she didn’t let that hold her back. With the support of prosthetics, she rose to fame as an exceptional track and field athlete, representing America in the 1996 Paralympic Games. Besides sports, Aimee pursued a successful modeling career, inspiring countless people to look beyond physical challenges.
Often referred to as the lady with 12 legs, Aimee’s prosthetics play a key role in her daily activities. For many like her, eager to enjoy life to the fullest, prosthetic devices offer newfound hope. In this article, we spotlight 10 outstanding prosthetic innovations that are shaping the future of medicine.
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The i-LIMB is celebrated as the first bionic hand sold to the public, introduced in 2007. Users can operate the hand through muscle movements in the remaining part of the limb. Specific muscle movements trigger preset grips in the hand. For instance, a quick double muscle movement results in a pinch grip. Over time, this device has evolved, now offering improved finger and thumb functions, along with a supporting mobile app.
Popularly dubbed the ‘Terminator arm’, the Bebionic3 stands as another cutting-edge prosthetic hand available for purchase. Similar to the i-LIMB, it relies on muscle signals to trigger its variety of grips, enabling users to manage daily tasks with ease. The precision of these modern hands matches that of natural ones, allowing users to carry on with their lives seamlessly.
Leg: Power Knee
Individuals who’ve undergone amputations above the knee often find movement challenging using standard prosthetics due to the absence of knee support. That’s where the team from Össur comes in, designing a bionic knee called the Power Knee.
This invention lets users walk effortlessly and naturally. The Power Knee mimics necessary muscle actions to bend the leg and can adapt to an individual’s unique walking style for added comfort and efficiency.
Feet: Proprio Foot
Designed by the creators of the Power Knee, the Proprio Foot is a bionic foot built to help users walk on uneven ground. This prosthetic uses technology that minimizes the extra effort people usually apply with regular prosthetics. Thanks to its lightweight design, powered ankle, and smart terrain adaptation, users can enjoy a more natural way of walking and standing.
Many might recognize the name BiOM from a TedTalk presented by Hugh Herr, leader of the Biomechatronics group at MIT’s Center For Extreme Bionics. He discussed the progress in bionic leg technology and its possible impact on people. If you haven’t watched it, it’s a must-see. He showcases the advanced nature of his prosthetics and how they’re made. And as a highlight, he brings a dancer using the bionic leg to show its flexibility.
Hand: The Deka Arm
Endearingly called the ‘Luke Arm’ after Luke Skywalker, the DEKA Arm is a creation of inventor Dean Kamen and his team at DEKA Research and Development Corporation. It was developed with support from DARPA’s Prosthesis Advancement program, aiming to push prosthetic research to new heights.
The arm functions using a mix of electrodes, physical movement, and switches. These inputs are processed to produce hand motions. The prosthetic got FDA approval in May 2014, hinting at its possible widespread availability soon.
Hand: Modular Prosthetic Limb
The Modular Prosthetic Limb, by the John Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, is another initiative funded by the Prosthesis Advancement project. Its goal is to make a bionic arm that offers users the same movement and flexibility as a regular arm, controlled directly by the brain.
True to its name, the design is modular, meaning it can substitute any damaged limb at any point. Early users of this device mentioned their newfound ability to distinguish between fingers and even feel an object’s firmness.
Second Sight’s Argus II is a retinal prosthesis created to aid those with retinitis pigmentosa. It uses a combination of a retinal implant and an external camera attached to eyeglasses, which is then connected to a processing unit.
The camera captures images, processes them, and wirelessly transmits them to the eye implant. This stimulates the remaining retinal cells, giving the user some visual information. It’s not a solution for blindness, but it’s a stride towards bringing vision back to the blind.
Artificial hearts have existed for over 50 years. While not permanent heart replacements yet, they can help extend a patient’s life until a heart transplant is possible. One such heart, the AbioCor, has a lifespan of around 18 months.
But sometimes, just an assistive implant, rather than a replacement, is needed. That’s where Ventricular Assist Devices (VAD) come into play. They aid or replace a failing part of the heart, handling the blood pumping. Former US Vice President Dick Cheney used a VAD for 20 months.
The bionic pancreas is a newer development for those with Type-1 diabetes. Instead of manually injecting insulin, this device has a sensor to monitor glucose levels and sends this data to a smartphone app.
The app determines the insulin dose and automatically administers it via an implanted pump. Users only need to inform the app about their meals, allowing the system to adjust. It’s in its early stages, but the potential benefits are clear.
Extra: The Eyeborg Documentary
After losing an eye in an accident, filmmaker Rob Spence installed a camera in his prosthetic eye. The camera can send videos wirelessly to an external device. He was tasked by Square Enix to produce a documentary on cybernetics and prosthetics, timed with the launch of the video game Deus Ex: Human Revolution. He traveled worldwide, meeting similar individuals and exploring the technology’s future. It’s a must-see for enthusiasts in the field.