DARPA, an agency of the U.S. Department of Defense, has been putting its research muscle behind a new way to use real muscle: arm muscle, that is! Specifically, the arm muscle of volunteer Johnny Matheny, whose left arm amputation has made him an excellent subject for the development of a new prosthetic: one that features unprecedented connection between brain and limb.
The prosthetic, dubbed the “Modular Prosthetic Limb,” is capable not only of receiving signals from Matheny’s brain, but also of transmitting them back. This extraordinary communication is mediated by wireless Myo bands worn over on Matheny’s upper arm, which detect muscular signals, and transmit them via Bluetooth to the computer inside the prosthetic, which then issues commands to the arm to move. (Basically, Matheny’s collaboration with Myo and DARPA are slowly turning him into a cyborg.)
“Years ago, [Matheny] received targeted muscle reinnervation (TMR), a surgical procedure that reassigns nerves in a residual limb to make better use of a prosthetic replacement. In the spring of 2015, Matheny became the first American with TMR to undergo osseointegration, another surgical procedure that allows him to connect prosthetic devices directly to the bone of his upper arm. […]
And all of this is just the beginning. Pointing to his robotic fingertips, Matheny explained that they already contain tactile sensors capable of detecting texture, pressure, and temperature. But in order for Matheny to feel what his prosthetic arm feels, those signals have to reach his brain. In the not-too-distant future, another surgical procedure may enable this.”
It’s great to see a defense-related agency using its expansive mandate to create a fascinating new technology that can improve the lives of veterans — and others — who have experienced an amputation. This news also means we are one step closer to my personal dream, the Singularity. Definitely an interesting time to be alive!