By David Ponce
Claudia Mitchell lost her arm in a motorcycle accident some time ago, and she is the first woman to replace the severed limb with a “bionic arm”. In other words, she can move the robotic arm simply by thinking about moving it. The device is designed by The Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, which is part of a multi-lab effort, funded with nearly $50 million from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), to create more useful and natural artificial limbs for amputees.
Now, although this is very cool, and very good news for Mitchell, don’t go thinking there’s any kind of mind-reading involved.
[The arm] works by detecting the movements of a chest muscle that has been rewired to the stumps of nerves that once went to her now-missing limb.
What this means is that every instance of the robot arm has to be custom built for the patient, what with every amputation being different from the other. That said, this is fascinating technology nevertheless.
Someday she hopes to upgrade to a prosthesis, still under development, that will allow her also to “feel” with an artificial hand. She is ready for it now.
Last summer, surgeons took the first step by rewiring the skin above her left breast so that when the area is stimulated by impulses from the bionic arm, the skin sends a message to the region of her brain that feels “hand.”