AI-enabled prosthesis – Feasible tech or Wishful thinking?
For 1 million global new amputees per year (which is one amputation every 30 seconds), the loss of an organ means they must adapt to the new world. Take, for example, India, one of the most populous countries in the world. Only 3% of its buildings are suitable for access, while the country counts over half a million amputees. As part of this new adaptation process, amputees suffer further injuries. Experts estimate that amputees are 200 times less likely than healthy individuals; And seek comparable medical assistance with institutionalized seniors.
With an aging population, trauma leading to an increase in vascular disease and dissection, those numbers are likely to increase worldwide. Some countries, such as the US, have almost doubled the number of their amputees by 2050.
Advances in prosthetics can help improve that world for amputees, even if the world around them does not necessarily improve. And these developments are happening fast. Who better to ask than prosthetic wearers who develop robotic prostheses?
Egyptian mummies to cyberpunk brain-controlled prosthetics
Back in 2011, archaeologists discovered the oldest prosthetic device; Wooden toe buried with Egyptian mummies 3,000 years ago. Aesthetically it packs a steampunk look, while this artificial toe is far from being a cosmetic item. After examining the replicas, the researchers found that they were actually practical devices that could help with gait. Although materials have changed over the millennium, prosthetics have only evolved in recent decades with the advent of robotic prostheses.
In a Seminal 2008 paper, the researchers described how monkeys were able to control a mechanical hand with their brain activity. Controlling the prosthetic limb by means of electrodes implanted in their brains, which also allowed them to feed the fetus themselves; It was the first with brain-controlled prostheses. The developments in subsequent years since 2011 have been as close to human capacity as the modular prosthetic limb; And by 2020, patients with mind-controlled arm prostheses will be able to experience palpation thanks to the new implant system.
With developments like that, the future of this technology seemed to depend on battery life and robotic progress. The narrative has shifted to focus on how much artificial intelligence (A.I.) we can develop for prostheses.
If you think the field of prosthetics with cyberpunk brain controls got all the science fiction, hold on because there is more. Enter the age of the smart prosthesis as a pair of engineers A.I. With prostheses.
The age of smart prosthetics
The basis for including A.I. In robotic prostheses, the algorithm describes the nerve signals from the patient’s muscles, allowing the prosthesis to be more precisely controlled. All externally powered (motor-driven) upper limb prostheses have become a cornerstone of R&D, but are difficult to apply to lower limb prostheses. However, a study published in March 2020 by the University of Michigan team in Science Translational Medicine records a new method for incorporating technology into more types of prostheses.
Their new technology, based on the regenerative peripheral nerve interface (RPNI), surgeons use a small muscle and wrap it around the end of a dissected nerve to produce stretched signals. The team of mathematicians apply machine learning algorithms to convert the signals into fine movements in the prosthetic.