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Bionic Arm Uses Neuro-Engineering

Electrician Jesse Sullivan lost both his arms after receiving an electric shock at work, and thought he would never again lead an independent life.

However, scientists at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago attached a unique "bionic" arm to his left shoulder. This artificial arm is directed by his own brain.


(From 'Six Million Dollar Man' Bionic Arm)

Surgeons dissected the four major nerves that once went down Mr. Sullivan's arms, and placed them on his chest muscles. The nerves grew into the muscles, which allows him to direct his new arm through his own brain impulses.

Incredibly, the arm allows Mr. Sullivan to shave, put on socks and glasses, and work in the garden. Even tasks like opening a jar and throwing and catching with his grandchildren are now possible.

Dr. Todd Kuiken, Director of Neural Engineering Center for Artifical Limbs at the RIC, stated that this was the first time a nerve-muscle graft had been used to connect an artificial limb.

In his 1972 novel Cyborg, author Martin Caidin explored the idea that someone who lost their limbs could actually have them replaced with prosthetics that would become a part of their bodies, and would be directed with the same electrical impulses originating in the brain.

When you think to pick up an object, what happened before with your original arm is repeated. The electrical impulses generated by your brain command everything... The artificial muscles.. which in this case are silastic and vitallium pulleys, then contract, twist, and tighten. You can even sense with your fingertips...
(Read more about bionic arms from Cyborg)

This novel was, of course, the basis for the well-known television series The Six Million Dollar Man.

Update 16-Dec-2022: Take a look at the thought-attuned robotic arm from Bleekman's Planet by Ivar Jorgensen, published by Imagination magazine in 1957:

ďItís thought-attuned. Itís controlled directly from my neural centers, and the linkage isnít completely smooth yet. It takes time to learn how to use one of those things, and itís a strain learning. I donít wear the arm all the time.Ē
(Read more about the thought-attuned prosthetic arm)

End update.

Thanks to Joel Jackson for the tip on this story.

Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 7/14/2005)

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