Bionic Arm

By Youngsang Ryu (Columnist, Former Opinion Editor) [?]

Published: December 2, 2008 and Updated: January 25, 2009
Reprinted From The Windward Bridge

Jesse Sullivan is your average electrician, except for one thing: he’s missing an arm. Sullivan is part of a minority of people who have lost limbs due to various accidents. For years, those with missing appendages have had to suffer through the hardships of having prosthetic body parts. But recently, Sullivan and others have been presented with another option: the robotic, or bionic, arm.

A few years ago, the idea of a robotic arm was just a figment of scientists’ imaginations. Now, this seemingly unattainable mechanism has become a reality thanks to Dr. Todd Kuiken at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, who has developed the first robotic arm that can be maneuvered through human nerve signals. The arm is simply activated when the wearer thinks about moving it. With this technological advancement, those who have lost their arms will be relieved from the stress of manual activity.

The bionic arm looks like that of the Terminator: it is an armor-like apparatus featuring iron fragments and a claw for a hand. When an arm is amputated, nerve endings still exist in the shoulder. Doctors and researchers have discovered that if these nerve endings are transferred from the shoulder to the chest muscle, the chest muscle can respond to the nerves’ commands, despite the absence of the arm. As a result, when the patient thinks about moving his or her hand, for example, a nerve signal is sent to the relocated nerve center in the chest, and the chest muscle responds by signaling the arm. The bionic arm detects the signal from distinct nerves and transforms that signal into a command by moving in the appropriate way.

This new technology is a relief to all who have lost an arm, who previously could not perform simple tasks such as drinking water or writing. The bionic arm will give these people a chance to write a letter or hug a loved one again, actions that most take for granted. Already people who have been lucky enough to receive the robotic arm are benefitting from its revolutionary qualities.

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  • Alex L, on 12/03/2008, said:

    This is a pretty cool site you guys
    Nice job!
    Great article too

    --alex l

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