There are more than 1.7 million people living with limb loss in the United States alone. While prosthetics continue to become more lifelike, giving the user a more authentic experience, for the most part they’re still rigid (and expensive). Knowing this, researchers from Thalmic Labs and Johns Hopkins University teamed up in hopes of giving prosthetic users an experience closer to real life.
Using Thalmic Labs’ Myo armband, a wearable that uses muscular activity to control electronic devices via Bluetooth, the researchers found a way to help one man who lost his arm to cancer wirelessly control his prosthetic arm. “The [Modular Prosthetic Limb] is the most unique arm I’ve ever worn,” said Johnny Matheny, the patient testing the device, in the video above. “It has the ability to do anything that your natural hand, wrist, elbow, [and] shoulder can do.”
The Myo armband works by first sensing and recording muscle activity in Matheny’s arm. Then it sends these signals to a computer, which processes the information and sends it back to the prosthetic. This allows Matheny to do everything from pointing his index finger to picking up a ball. “The MPL now really is an extension of his arm,” said Dr. Albert Chi, medical director of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab.
The best thing about the prosthetic is the armbands aren’t intrusive and therefore won’t require electrodes to be implanted — these facilitate movement of the prosthetic through communication with the brain — or any sort of preparation on the skin. “The project has been a great stride forward in integrating Myo with prosthetics,” said Stephen Lake, co-founder and CEO of Myo developer Thalmic Labs. “We’re very excited to see what further research and more people looking at this area do with Myo, especially in the area of prosthetics.”