September 20, 2006
Prosthetics in the Mainstream: Bionic Women & Dolphins
The advances for prosthetics keeps on coming. Move over Jamie Summers - the first Bionic Woman is Claudia Mitchell. As the Washington Post states:
Mitchell, who lives in Ellicott City, is the fourth person — and first woman — to receive a “bionic” arm, which allows her to control parts of the device by her thoughts alone. The device, designed by physicians and engineers at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, works by detecting the movements of a chest muscle that has been rewired to the stumps of nerves that once went to her now-missing limb.
Mitchell and the first person to get a bionic arm — a power-line technician who lost both arms to a severe electric shock — will demonstrate their prostheses today at a news event in Washington. The Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago is part of a multi-lab effort, funded with nearly $50 million from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), to create more useful and natural artificial limbs for amputees.
As I mentioned previously, if there is anything good to come out of the Iraqi conflict, its the massive dollars going into prosthetics research. The Washington Post reports that “as of July, 411 members of the military serving in Iraq, and 37 in Afghanistan, have suffered wounds requiring amputation of at least one limb.” Soldiers who have put their lives on the line only to lose a part of themselves are beginning to have options to lead normal lives again.
Jesse Sullivan has two prosthetic arms, but he can climb a ladder at his house and roll on a fresh coat of paint. He’s also good with a weed-whacker, bending his elbow and rotating his forearm to guide the machine. He’s even mastered a more sensitive maneuver _ hugging his grandchildren.
The motions are coordinated and smooth because his left arm is a bionic device controlled by his brain. He thinks, “Close hand,” and electrical signals sent through surgically re-routed nerves make it happen.
Jesse Sullivan demonstrates one of his prosthetic arms by using a paint roller on the side of his house, July 20, 2006, in Dayton, Tenn. His left arm is is a bionic device wired directly into his brain. Sullivan lost his arms in May 2001, working as a utility lineman. (AP Photo/Mark Gilliland)
Jesse Sullivan demonstrates one of his prosthetic arms by using a paint roller on the side of his house, July 20, 2006, in Dayton, Tenn. His left arm is is a bionic device wired directly into his brain. Sullivan lost his arms in May 2001, working as a utility lineman.
Doctors describe Sullivan as the first amputee with a thought-controlled artificial arm.
But it doesn’t stop at soldiers - in the short term, innovations with connecting prosthetics directly to the nervous system will benefit anyone who has lost a limb. People have started to have “JJ Arms” style prosthetics collections tailored toward the various tasks they engage in (different legs for running, walking, etc.). Unfortunately for most non-vets, insurance companies are not helping, but perhaps this too will be addressed. From a cyberpunked living standpoint, I contend that over time, this will march humanity closer to a post-human future - one in which people can begin experimenting with additional prosthetics - ones which don’t mimic our existing body type.
But it doesn’t stop there folks! There’s animals too. From three-legged cows in search of another hoof to now, even dolphins are getting into the act! The Sun Sentinel reports a story about a dolphin who’s tail got cut off is in line for a new tail!
The solution for Winter may be a prosthetic tail. If the logistics can be worked out, Winter’s prosthesis would be the first for a dolphin who lost its tail and the key joint that allows it to move in powerful up-and-down strokes. Another dolphin in Japan has a prosthesis, the first in the world, to replace a missing part of its tail.
When the satirical news sites start making up stories about prosthetics, you know its hit the mainstream. People are even nuking prosthetic penises to pass drug tests! I still remember as a wee little kid back in the early 70s being scared shitless when I saw a guy doing laundry with a fake arm in the shape of a hook. How we have advanced. Now, those with prosthetics barely merit a flick of the eye. People with prosthetics no longer hide them - in fact they are starting to celebrate them by displaying and personalizing them. In short, our view of a “normal person” is shifting to something far more encompassing. This is a great thing - times are a changin!