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The World’s Most Sophisticated Bionic Arm

deka bionic arm

We’ve had a lot of stories on the blog about the amazing progress being made in the world of prosthetic limbs. We even reported on the upcoming Cybathlon taking place in 2016 that showcases what prosthetic limbs can do in Olympic style events.

But the new Modular Prosthetic Limb (or MPL) from the researchers over at John Hopkins University in Maryland is so sophisticated, it’s like “something out of space come to Earth.” That’s because this prosthetic limb can be controlled with a person’s mind! 

The MPL features 100 sensors, 26 joints, 17 motors and a tiny computer built into the palm of the robotic hand, recreating virtually every movement of a natural arm—and all controlled by brain power. “This is the most sophisticated arm in the world,” says Michael McLoughlin, of the university’s Applied Physics Laboratory, as CNN notes. “Think about things like eventually playing the piano … I think we’ll get there someday.”

The lucky recipient for this beautiful machine is Johnny Matheney, who lost his left arm to cancer back in 2008. “When they took my arm I never thought I would have an actual hand–I saw the hooks and thought that was exactly what I would be getting,” said Matheney. But once the MPL got hooked up to Matheney, all he had to do was think about moving his old arm and the bionic arm responds.

“You don’t even really think about it,” said Matheney. “You’re extending the arm, talking and doing other things–it just automatically does it.”

The ambitious bionic limb, seven years in the making, as CNN notes, is incredibly lifelike in its movements thanks to its complex system of motors and joints built into it. It has a much more fluid feel to it, unlike other prosthetic arms. While many prosthetics look lifelike, finding one that also moves naturally has proved more of a challenge.

“There is an elegance to it, and that is actually one of the most important things for the users of prosthetics,” said McLoughlin. “The natural movement is almost more important than the appearance.” And speaking of appearance, there are now plans to cover the MPL in a skin-like substance, which could make it the most inconspicuous artificial arm in history!

The MPL is still one of a kind, and is still undergoing major testing and tweaking before Matheney is able to take it home for good. “Every time I have to turn it back in, it’s like losing part of me all over again,” he says. But Matheney agrees with us at Dream It Do It that sophisticated pieces of technology like the MPL are proof that, “The future is coming now.”

Photo credit: Innovapedia

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