Doctors fitted the first mind-controlled prosthetic leg onto Zac Vawter recently. I posed earlier this year about prosthetic limbs, and noted that mind controlled prosthetic hands are also available. Hands tend to come before legs – by about a year or two – and so this new leg is right on schedule. I’m interested to see if it will make an appearance at the 2014 or 2016 Olympic or Paralympic games.
To get an idea of how quickly this technology is advancing, consider that almost exactly one year ago researchers were trying to make a brain controlled leg in exoskeleton form. Another form of exoskeletal leg control is this device – essentially a very complicated leg brace – that straps over a biological leg and aids it in walking.
(Credit to Gizmodo)
This dual track in prosthetic leg research is exciting because it provides a number of options. If it’s true that we’re on the verge of prosthetic limbs that are superior to biological limbs, then it seems very likely that people with normally functioning limbs are going to want to take advantage of that technology. However, it’s probably too much to expect people to have normally functioning limbs removed in order to replace those limbs with (even superior) mechanical limbs – at least, it’s unlikely in the very near future on a grand scale. So, devices like exoskeletons and The Bionic Leg devices allow people to both retain their biological limbs and take advantage of some of the superior technology.
Still, it seems unlikely that biology will be able to keep up with mechanical limbs in the long run, and there is only so much stress flesh and bone can endure. Perhaps, however, these exoskeletons will serve as a kind of test drive, making people comfortable with the technology and helping them decide whether full-on replacement is desirable.
As an administrative note: I plan to post shorter entries like this for the near future. More links, and less commentary. The frequency of posts, however, should increase.