Cyborgs have long been a staple of science fiction. However, with the incredible progress of technology we’ve witnessed over the past decade, they have become a reality. Technically, even people sporting a pacemaker could be considered cyborgs, since a cyborg is a regular person whose physical attributes are enhanced by having mechanical elements built into the body.
But pacemakers are old-school. Today, technology has reached a level where it can create working organs, fixing a wide array of physiological issues, and even creating fully functional arms. So, during a technology exposition this week, DARPA presented a mind-controlled cyborg arm that can do pretty much anything except feel and the classic Vulcan salute.
Johnny Matheny is one of the people that are benefiting from the technology, as he decided to collaborate with the research arm of United States Intelligence in order to help them develop their innovations. The man lost his lower left arm to cancer eight years ago, and ever since he’s been doing his best to help others in his situation.
While the carbon fiber arm is too robotic-looking to be mistaken for a human arm, it has just as much dexterity as one, minus the Vulcan salute (Matheny joked a lot about that). Plus, in terms of strength, it can crush a human skull as easily as a child squeezing a clementine. So it’s pretty strong.
Matheny can enjoy the benefits of his new cyborg arm (also known as a Modular Prosthetic Limb) as courtesy of the targeted muscle reinnervation procedure he got a few years back. The surgical procedure reassigns nerves to residual limbs in order to use prosthetic replacements better.
He is also the first American citizen who underwent a targeted muscle reinnervation procedure to also undergo osseointegration. Osseointegration is a different surgical procedure which allows people to connect prosthetic devices directly to the bones of their upper arms. The two techniques, combined with the prosthetic limb, now allow Matheny his full range of motion.
The mostly fully functioning cyborg arm works with the help of a Myo band attached to Matheny’s arm. The band, connected to his nerve endings, picks up the electric signals from his muscles and transmits them via Bluetooth to a computer inside the prosthetic arm, which in turn drives the motors inside the device.
But things are about to get even better. The only downside (other than its inability to show off classical Star Trek knowledge) to the cyborg arm is that so far it cannot reproduce tactile sensations. However, DARPA scientists are currently working on another mind-controlled prosthetic arm nicknamed “Luke” (after Luke Skywalker) that can also grant the user tactile sensations.
Image source: YouTube