US Navy is Developing Smart Prosthetic Limbs With Built-In Sensors

Sunday, 08 October 2017 - 1:15PM
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Robotics
Medical Tech
Sunday, 08 October 2017 - 1:15PM
US Navy is Developing Smart Prosthetic Limbs With Built-In Sensors
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Considering how many commercial gadgets are capable of measuring your health nowadays, you would think prosthetic limbs would benefit even more from such technology. But that's only just beginning to be looked into.

The Office of Naval Research recently revealed that they were looking into a type of "smart" prosthetic limb with built-in sensors that can track changes in movement, various health issues, and early signs of infection. Partnering with various Naval medical centers and universities, the goal is to put together a prosthetic which can generally increase the quality of life for veterans with lost limbs.  

Rather that compare it to some fancy military contraptionUniversity of Michigan professor Dr. Jerome Lynch (who's in charge of the sensor array's development) said to "think of it as an extremely specialized Fitbit." In the sense that a Fitbit is a wearable device which monitors your body and can transmit its findings remotely. 

Typical prosthetics, while easily removable, can commonly cause infections due to the way metal sticks out from the artificial limb. While the smart prosthetic can't eliminate the chances of infection entirely (which would be an impressive feat on its own), it does include a sensor-array embedded into the limb, which monitors pH levels and body temperature for early warning signs. 

Alongside that, the sensors also track the prosthetic limb's general strength and how much strain the user's body puts on it, and any changes in movement. All of which can then be looked at by doctors. Lynch spoke about that particular benefit of the smart prosthetic:  

Opening quote
"One game-changing application of this technology would be as a tool to inform doctors when prostheses can be safely loaded after surgery, leading to more accurate determination of when patients are ready for physical therapy after receiving a new prosthetic."
Closing quote


This isn't the only recent medical technology to be compared to a Fitbit - not long ago, researchers from Harvard and MIT created a proof-of-concept for tattoos with biosensitive ink, which can change color based on similar health readings they take from your body. That's less geared toward military folks, so that technology might begin seeing public use much sooner.

And the US Navy isn't the only group working on "smart limb" technology, either. Across the pond, the CyberLegs Plus Plus project is a European Commission-funded experiment with a different sort of robotic limb, which could sense and cognitively respond to the wearer's intended movements. With the result being a limb that feels much more natural than an average prosthetic due to the robotic interface.

Other prosthetics are also attempting to allow their users to feel textures

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