Thanks to two college students in Toronto, Canada, anyone faced with making that choice may be able to get a new and user-friendly limb that is neither hard to use or expensive.
Biomedical engineering students Thiago Caires and Michael Prywata from Ryerson University have invented a prosthetic arm controlled by the owner’s brain and powered by compressed air that they call the Artificial Muscle-Operated (AMO) Arm. It’s not only easier to use than traditional artificial limbs, it doesn’t require the person to have surgery to attach it and it’s not expensive to manufacture like some of the other electronic prostheses now available to amputees.
The AMO user wears a special headset that detects brain signals, which are then sends a signal electronically through a wireless connection to a microprocessor in the arm. The arm compares those signals with the ones stored in its database of established commands, and then sends a signal back to the arm to comply with that command.
For instance, if the person wearing the arm thinks about moving that arm up, then the AMO will move up just like a real arm does when someone desires to move it up.
Traditional electronic artificial limbs usually employ hydroelectric motors and relays, but the AMO uses compressed air to simulate how a person’s muscles expand and contract. For purposes of the prototype being tested, the air needed to power it is held in a pouch worn in the person’s pocket, but plans are already in progress to get the air built into the artificial arm unit instead.
The good news is that pneumatic air is simple and well-known technology and costs pennies on the dollar compare to the $80,000 or so that an electronic and fully functional artificial arm made with today’s technology.
Another good thing is that the AMO just straps onto the amputee’s stump of the lost arm, while most of the other artificial arms require surgery to attach nerves to the parts in the arm. This isn’t necessary in using the AMO, which can be taught to someone in seconds after they strap it on.
The student duo is also working on getting the AMO to learn the habits of its wearer and anticipate the arm could not only benefit amputees, but might also be used as an extension arm on a wheelchair or some other uses. They have formed the company Bionik Laboratories, Inc. to study and commercialize the AMO.
The two electronic whizzes are also trying to develop artificial lumps and a way to help spinal cord injury victims without dangerous invasive surgery.