The human body is a fascinating machine. Quite complex and intricate. Next to the human heart and mind, the four limbs (i.e. arms and legs) are an intrinsic part of how we define ourselves in life. But not everyone is fortunate to have a healthy pair of limbs. Due to war, disease, accidents or genetic anomalies, not all human beings are blessed with a working pair of limbs. Most lead on to have sad and unproductive lives. Some even resort to begging and stealing to make ends meet. It’s at this juncture that artificially powered limbs become critical. While they’re yet to be the perfect replacement to natural limbs, AI enabled limbs are catching up and exhibit interesting technologies that can perform nearly if not all the functions that a natural limb can. But what and how do these artificial appendages work? Let’s find out
Human hands and legs, while stationary when not being used, require a complex system of signals emanating from the brain to perform any function. Everything from walking to writing to swimming to painting, almost anything that requires use of the limbs, requires a variety of signals from the brain to perform the intended function. Artificial limbs are built on a similar principle. When a person, who’s lost the usage of his/her natural arms/legs or both, is fitted with artificial appendages, the latter takes cue from the nerves of the human user to perform any function. The appendage is fitted with a variety of sensors to replicate what its human user has in mind for it.
Using a vast amount of data such as the pressure, angle, shape, contour and fluidity of natural human limb movement, the AI enabled appendage can mimic its siginificant better’s movement precisely. The degree to which it can perform such a function depends on the level of sensitivity the sensor encompasses. To ensure optimal usage under a variety of conditions, an AI enabled appendage is loaded with a variety of microprocessors that essentially perform the role of a human hand or limb. One such company that has made giant strides in this field is Ottobock. Named after the 20th century German prosthetist Otto Bock who made some of the world’s earliest prosthetics for soldiers injured in the 1st World War, this german based company has made a commendable prosthetic hand; BeBionic.
BeBionic is a hand that has 14 selectable grip patterns along with an additional auto grip feature. Featuring powerful microprocessors and individual motors for each finger, this contraption can handle loads of upto 45 kgs. It also has soft finger pads along with proportional speed control that enables it to allow the user to grip a variety of surfaces with ease and confidence.
Another prosthetic aid that has gained international recognition is the one that was used by former Paralympic gold medallist Oscar Pistorius. The ‘Cheetah Xtreme’ features elements such as ‘Active tibial progression’, a feature that mimics the sprint and stop power of Olympic level able bodied athletes; ‘Proportional Response’ that takes into consideration the user’s weight and the impact of the heel with the surface as well as a ‘Waterproof internal structure’ that doesn’t allow water to seep in
Though prosthetics and AI still have a long way to go before they’re able to bridge the gap between paralympic and olympic level events, the giant strides they’ve made, courtesy the above two wonders, is commendable.