Arms 2.0 are almost here

14 Feb

Over the past few weeks I’ve been working on some revisions to Sex, Bombs and Burgers in advance of its U.S. publication, coming up in December. One of the upcoming technologies I mentioned in one of the later chapters is a robotic arm that has been designed by scientists working for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

The arm is notable for a number of reasons. Firstly, it’s the most advanced prosthetic arm yet in that it can bend, twist and rotate in 27 different ways, fully simulating the real thing. Here it is in action – and you’ll have to forgive me for marking out as a fanboy, because just watching this thing is amazing:

What’s even more remarkable about the arm, as mentioned briefly in the video, is that it can be controlled via a neural implant in the brain. In other words, it’s a thought-controlled robotic arm.

It’s even more notable now because the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has just announced it will be fast-tracking testing of the arm and its neural implant, with an eye to getting this thing out there within the next four or five years (I had to update that information in my book).

I’m not sure it’s possible to overstate just how huge this is. We are on the cusp of introducing a bionic limb that appears to not only be equal to its biological equivalent, but potentially superior. We can expect that the arm will continue to improve over the next four years, to the point where the final product will be even better – and quite likely stronger. While the arm is intended for war amputees, how long will it be before someone voluntarily replaces their regular limb with a robo-arm?

There’s one other reason the DARPA arm is notable. It’s indicative that our understanding of how the brain works – or at least how it controls our bodies – is improving very quickly. This arm will open up a huge potential field of thought-controlled electronics.


Posted by on February 14, 2011 in bionics, DARPA, war

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