Bionic Limbs Research News March 16, 2021

Bionic Limbs Research News March 16 2021

As part of our mission to help those with limb differences stay informed of what’s happening with bionic limb technology, we periodically report on the latest research news. Below are the most interesting stories that we uncovered this past week.

Hand Transplants, the Current State of Bionic Prostheses, and the Importance of Sensory Feedback

Part 1 of a 3-part video series put out by UCLA Engineering titled “The Bionic Human Series, Part 1 – The Future of Prosthetics: Restoring Limbs and Movement”. We heartily recommend watching the entire Part 1 video but, since it is nearly one hour long, we’ve also identified and summarized the most interesting parts below the video:

2:26 to 5:55: Hand Transplantation

We were not aware that hand transplantation had advanced to this stage. That on its own is incredible. But note the required heavy use of anti-rejection medication. As the surgeon points out, this is not currently the preferred solution to replacing a hand. It is being utilized at this point more because of the deficiencies of our existing bionic hands.

22:15 to 27:25 The Current State of Bionic Prostheses

The beginning of this discussion is a little broader than just the topic of bionic limbs but, if you want to get a sense of where we are, we encourage you to listen to the entire segment.

In short, these scientists are talking about the convergence of many different technologies & techniques to create significant advances in prosthetic limbs. But note how they introduce their remarks…”we’re on the precipice”…”we’re on the cusp”. This is not intended to denigrate their statements in any way. They are brilliant, passionate researchers tackling some of the most complex medical and technology challenges of our age. They need to be optimistic to push through those challenges.

However, we don’t represent scientists. We represent those with limb differences. And what we hear is that there is still a lot of work to be done to pull all of these technologies together into a working prosthesis.

35:12 to 39:57 The Importance of Sensory Feedback

A couple of other subjects are briefly touched on in this segment, but the panelists do eventually return to the main subject.

What is their conclusion? That sensory feedback is the linchpin to further progress with bionic limbs.

Fortunately, we may not have to wait “decades” to see the impact of this, as one of the scientists suggested. The Atom Touch is due out in 2024. It will be the first bionic arm in human history to incorporate extensive sensory feedback (200 + sensors) and spatial awareness (even if the latter has more to do with a microprocessor having that awareness instead of the brain). We have no idea how well the Atom Touch will deliver on its promises. But, either way, it should be a good indicator of where the bionics industry is on its journey toward full restoration of limb functionality.

Octopuses & Smarter Prosthetics

At a little over three minutes, it is worth viewing this entire video:

In case you’re worried, we don’t think scientists are actually planning to attach octopus-like arms or legs to anyone! What’s more important about this research is the idea of building local intelligence into bionic limbs.

This idea is not limited to mimicking sea creatures, either. Researchers are already exploring solutions like having small cameras mounted on bionic hands that, when paired with artificial intelligence, can identify objects by their shape and determine the best way to grip them.

Pressure sensors are already being used to implement features like automatically tightening a bionic hand’s grip if the hand senses that an object is slipping from its grasp.

And let’s not forget that the entire lower-limb bionics industry is currently based on local sensors and processors governing the behavior of bionic knees and ankles/feet without any input from the user’s brain.

In fact, we would not be surprised if, somewhere along the journey to fully restoring intuitive control and sensory feedback, we went through a period of hybrid control systems where the brain is handling some functions and local processors are handling others.

Related Information

Are you interested in research on bionic limbs? If so, see our complete selection of research articles.

For a comprehensive description of all current upper-limb technologies, devices, and research, see A Complete Guide to Bionic Arms & Hands.

For a comprehensive description of all current lower-limb technologies, devices, and research, see A Complete Guide to Bionic Legs & Feet.