Coming Soon: Bionic Hands, Knees And Ankles

When The Bionic Woman and The Six Million Dollar Man series were aired on television, the bionics parts were still in the imagination of writers and producers and viewers.

Bionic Woman Lifting a CarBionic Woman Lifting a Car

Now a bionic arm is close to becoming a reality (except for the fact that it's not really bionic, because it doesn't have any sensory, motor or electronic capabilities). The technology is in fact a basic pulley system, implanted in a human hand, to allow for a more natural grasping function while using less muscle energy. 

OSU Mechanical HandOSU Mechanical Hand

The researcher behind the project is Ravi Balasubramanian, an expert in robotics, biomechanics and human control systems, and assistant professor in the OSU College of Engineering.

So far it has been implanted in cadaver arms and it was found that the force required to close all four fingers around an object was reduced by 45 percent, and the grasp improvement on an object reduced slippage by 52 percent.  

It's a long road ahead. The next challenge is to find materials that won't be rejected by the body when it's implanted, similar to materials they use for hip implants and bone screws. They will need to develop suitable coatings so that the metal components don't cause damage when in contact with other parts of the anatomy.

Grasping with our hands to hold a hammer, or pick up a bottle, is something we take for granted, but it's one of the most important functionalities of our hands, and something easily affected by stroke, paralysis or traumatic injury. This device will be a huge help for people suffering from such nerve damage.

Plus, if it works for hands, it may also be applied to knees or ankles, traditionally difficult locations to restore function to after illness or injury. Balasubramanian is optimistic that this technology may also enable a limb or joint to perform even better than it did originally. Maybe lifting cars can be a reality after all.

Source: News & Research at Oregon State University