Össur is a biomedical engineering company that has announced the breakthrough of developing a bionic prosthetic leg that is mind-controlled. The prosthetic leg makes use of implanted sensors capable of sending wireless signals to the built-in computer thus allowing subconscious, real-time control that is capable of working faster with a more natural response and movements.
Prosthetics that make use of muscle impulses for their control are in production since 1960s, however, they have had some drastic limitations. The solution comes in the form of incorporating precise sensor settings which would transform the limb, from a practical point of view, into being mind-controlled. The method has proven to be a success with upper limbs and hands. However, it didn’t have much of success with lower limbs owing to the fact that the lower limbs work subconsciously. Legs are usually controlled via reflexes that get triggered by the spinal cord. In comparison, upper limbs make use of direct commands from brain.
Össur has introduced lower-limb prosthetic that are compatible with its bionic knees, legs and feet. These group of bionic prosthetics are essentially computerized smart limbs that are capable of learning in real-time and can even adjust themselves as per user’s gait, walking speed and terrain.
The control system uses Implanted MyoElectric Sensors (IMES) that have been developed by Alfred Mann Foundation. These are about the size of a matchstick and have to be implanted into particular remnant muscles in the limb stump. A coiled-wire receiver that is located inside the prosthesis’ cup collects the impulses and carries out their transmission wirelessly to the computer. By working together, the IMES and robotic limb create a kind of cybernetic spinal cord. This results in freeing the user of sending conscious commands to the limb and renders the limb capable of picking up the impulses and acting accordingly.
Thorvaldur Ingvarsson who is the leader of the mind-controlled prosthetics project said, “The technology allows the user’s experience with their prosthesis to become more intuitive and integrative. The result is the instantaneous physical movement of the prosthesis however the amputee intended. They no longer need to think about their movements because their unconscious reflexes are automatically converted into myoelectric impulses that control their Bionic prosthesis.”
Two volunteers have been using these implants for about a year now and are quite positive about the latest technology. Clinical trials, as you have already guessed, are going on. Jon Sigurdsson, President and CEO of Össur said, “Mind-controlled Bionic prosthetic legs are a remarkable clinical breakthrough in next-generation Bionic technology. By adapting not only to the individual’s intentional movements but to intuitive actions, we are closer than ever to creating prosthetics that are truly integrated with their user.”