The Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) of the USA has initiated its efforts to revolutionize prosthetic devices for amputee soldiers. These initiatives are in response to the casualties suffered by the defence personnel during the conflicts in Afganistan and Iraq. Presently DARPA has two projects of this nature. One is a two-year-long project titled ‘ Prosthesis 2007’ which will incorporate the best possible technologies and the most revolutionary short-term developments into a highly advanced, neurally interfaced prosthetic arm. The arm would be likely to be ready for clinical trials within two years. The research is expected to yield a limb that will allow the user to control his/her shoulder, elbow, wrist and hand simultaneously.
The project has been awarded to Deka Research and Development Corporation, Manchester, which received an 18.1 million USD funding from DARPA to this effect. However, it is not a solo endeavour of Deka as the institute will be working with researchers and clinicians at Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago (a leading rehabilitation hospital in the US), Chicago PT, LLC (a private firm having expertise in human/machine physical interaction), Good Imaging Technologies, and Institute of Biomedical Engineering, University of New Brunswick. The Institute of Biomedical Engineering will develop the embedded computer that interprets the muscle activity of the user, and relays control information to the prosthesis.
In this project, researchers will focus on some of the more difficult mechanical aspects of providing near-human strength in a prosthetic limb and would create customizable method of manufacturing a cosmetic covering that would allow the amputee a prosthetic arm, which is not only functional, but is similar in appearance to the amputee’s native limb.
The Applied Physics Laboratory of John Hopkins University has been awarded the other project. Revolutionizing Prosthetics 2009 program has a four-year gestation period and a budget of 30.4 million USD. Under this project, over the next four years, the researchers are expected to create a mechanical arm with the properties of a biological limb. With this new prosthetic, an upper extremity amputee would be able to feel and manipulate objects as he/she could do with his natural hand. Researchers will focus mainly on advanced neural control strategies to allow the user to operate the prosthetic arm in a near-biological manner. Besides that, the program would develop new power, actuation and robotic control technologies and fabricate advanced sensors.
According to Dr. Kevin Englehart, Associate Director, Biomedical Engineering of the Institute of Biomedical Engineering, University of Brunswick, “The diverse APL team brings together some of the most respected scientific researchers in their fields and commercial leaders from the prosthetics industry, including investigators from Arizona State University, the BioSTAR Group, California Institute of Technology, Johns Hopkins University, National Rehabilitation Hospital, New World Associates, Northwestern University and the Northwestern University Prosthetics Research Laboratory, Oak Ridge National Laboratories, Otto Bock Health Care (Austria), Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, Umea University (Sweden), University of Michigan, University of Rochester, University of California, Irvine, University of Southern California, University of Utah and Vanderbilt University.”
Besides activities and deliverables similar to the Prosthesis 2007 project, the Institute of Biomedical Engineering’s role in this innovative initiative also involves working in tandem with other partners in signal processing of the peripheral nerve and brain signals.
The successes of these pionerring research works have the potential to give a great respite to the amputees, and thereby providing a fillip to the thriving e-Health scenario across the globe.
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