Engineers are taking small but important steps toward artificial limbs amputees can control just as they controlled their original arm, leg or hand. Walking by wire. Today, on Engineering Works!
Artificial limbs, prostheses, have come a long way since Captain Ahab stumped around on his carved wooden leg. But anyone who walks on a prosthesis will tell you that they’ve still got a long way to go. Materials engineers and medical researchers are on the way.
It’s a significant problem. More than two million people in the United States alone have lost one or more limbs. This includes more than 1,400 veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Engineers are working with medical researchers on a polymer interface about the size of a dime that’s intended to help the wiring in powered prostheses mesh with the nerve fibers that originally passed signals back and forth between the central nervous system and your fingers or feet. It’s tricky. The interface has to be tolerated by the body. And it can’t interfere with the functioning of the delicate nerve fibers.
The interface they’re working with now made of the same organic polymer that contact lenses are made of. The polymer wafer is etched with holes just big enough to thread a human hair through them. The aim is for nerve fibers to grow through the holes and actually become part of the interface.
We’re still done for this time. See you next time.
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Start the discussion: This work sounds almost like science fiction. Remember Luke Skywalker’s mechanical hand after his fight with Darth Vader? It sounds like these guys are aiming for something just like that.
image in raw images: credit Sandia National Laboratory