It seems bizarre that just a year ago an article about the launch of the gesture-based armbands called Myo would eventually turn into an article about the gaming device being used to control robotic, prosthetic limbs.
Last year Thalmic Labs introduced the Myo gesture armband device exclusively on Amazon for $199.99. It allowed users to utilize the device for gaming and VR. I quipped that this would be perfect for robotic prosthetics. Lo and behold, this year they’ve taken the concept to a whole new level, allowing users with limb disabilities to actually control robotic limbs using fixed software inputs from an interface that works with Myo’s nerve-signal interpreters.
CNET did an interesting write-up on the advancements following research being conducted at Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, where patient Johnny Matheny was fitted with a muscle-controlled prosthetic limb that operates based on the Myo’s gesture readings. You can see a demonstration of the prosthetic in action below.
Oh man, if Matheny gets a polycarbonate sleeve to fit over the Myo and the exposed limb, he could look just like Adam Jensen from Deus Ex.
According to the press release over on the Johns Hopkins University website, they note that Matheny was on the receiving end of state-of-art surgical enhancements that allows a socket to attach to his missing limb, which then enables a robotic prosthetic to be attached. The socket can read muscle and nerve movements, which can then be extrapolated as data when devices like the Myo are attached.
According to the press release…
“Matheny, whose left arm was amputated in 2008 because of cancer, is considered a pioneer of advanced arm prosthetics. He was the first patient at the Johns Hopkins Hospital to undergo targeted muscle reinnervation (TMR), a surgical procedure that reassigns nerves that once controlled the arm or hand, which can make it possible for upper-extremity amputees to better use and control an advanced prosthetic device.”
The method of adding a direct bionic connection to the amputated limb is one of two different kinds of methods that can be used: one intravenous that connects directly to the nerves, while the other is external, utilizing devices attached to the skin to read data.
I imagine in the near future they will be able to surgically implant the biometric readers directly under the skin so that users will be able to shower and immerse themselves in liquids without worrying about damaging the electrical components. Also the surgical implants would remove the need to have bulky equipment like the Myo strapped to an arm or a leg.
Nevertheless, the Myo is a huge step forward in the advancement of modular data readings and cost-effective robotics for prosthetic limb replacement.
According to Matheny, this is one of the most advanced and mobile methods he’s experienced for robotic prosthesis, saying in the press release…
“Before, the only way I could put the prosthetic on was by this harness with suction and straps; but now, with osseointegration, the implant does away with all that. It’s all natural now. Nothing is holding me down. Before, I had limited range; I couldn’t reach over my head and behind my back. Now boom, that limitation is gone.”
According to the CNET article, this process of utilizing the Myo as a middle-man interpreter between the limb and the wearer (with the data being sent to a nearby computer for processing before being signaled back to the limb itself) is called electromyography.
Essentially, the Myo can be used in practically any kind of limb replacement application, whether it be a foot, a leg, a hand, a finger, or an arm.
For $199.99 it’s definitely making headway in the research department without costing an arm and a leg (no pun intended).
If the Myo was combined with the new 3D printed prosthetics, one could effectively manage to have a limb replaced for just under $1,000. A lot of this will depend on the prosthetic itself and software that could run on a mobile device to work as an interpreter.
It’s hilarious to think that the media have been vilifying the gaming industry in an unscrupulous way these past two years, but it’s a wireless gaming device that’s making serious headway in revolutionizing bionic limb replacement for amputees. It’s something to think about.