Rebuilding humans with robotics. That's what doctors did to crippled test pilot Steve Austin in the 1970s TV show The Six Million Dollar Man. Today, new technology is making that fiction a little closer to reality
Chances are you either know or have at least encountered someone with a prosthetic limb. Biomedical engineers at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago in Illinois have created a robotic leg that -- get this -- is controlled by the wearer's mind. They surgically attached it to a 32-year-old man who lost his knee and lower leg in a motorcycle accident. And, yep, it works.
The project builds on previous studies that have shown paralyzed people could move robotic arms using their thoughts and that able-bodied people can walk using robotic legs controlled by their brains, according to an article from Nature.
Here's how they did it: Surgeons redirected the nerves that controlled the man's lower-leg muscles so they would contract muscles in his thigh instead. "They then used sensors embedded in the robotic leg to measure the electrical pulses created by both the reinnervated muscle contractions and the existing thigh muscles," the Nature report says. "When the surgeons combined this information with additional data from the sensors, the man was able to use the leg more accurately than when attempting to control the leg with its sensors alone."
You can see the man walking and kicking a football with his robotic leg in this video:
OK, sorry. I feel the opening narration from The Six Million Dollar Man coming on: Gentlemen, we can rebuild him. We have the technology. We have the capability to build the world's first bionic man. Steve Austin will be that man. Better than he was before. Better, stronger, faster.
The biomedical engineer team in Chicago says this, to their knowledge, is the first time a motorized knee and ankle prosthesis have been controlled by neural signals. First or not, this new tech could have huge implications for the medical industry. This is something worth keeping an eye on, bionic or otherwise.
Here's more from the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago on how it works:
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