Computer controlled bionic prostheses are mainstream today. But the journey of prosthetics wasn’t short like the other fancy gadgets we have invented. Prosthetics started the journey back in the medieval ages. Since then it has been enriched by the progress made in allied disciplines. The change introduced in the field was so contrasting that the purpose of a prosthesis changed from being a cosmetic enhancement to an instrument of rehabilitation. Back in the medieval ages the materials needed for building a prosthesis were rare and heavier than what we use today. Needless to say the craftsmen who should build them were scarce as well. Thus a rare object like a prosthesis was expensive and restricted to people in power. Mostly personalized, these instruments had no real rehabilitation or functional aspect to them. Today a prosthesis is designed to give back many of the lost abilities associated with a limb. Loss of a limb is irreversible given the nascent state of 3D organ printing technology. The prostheses we have today are the best that time can offer and arguably the sole option for post-amputation rehabilitation.
Working mechanism: a brief overview
In order to understand the drawbacks of a modern bionic prosthesis, we must dive deep into the mechanicals with a keen eye for knowledge. A modern day bionic prosthesis is usually a computerized device. It features an onboard microcomputer able to take up electromyographic signals and translate them into gestures and actions based on the hardware. The electromyographic signals are generated by the residual muscles left after the amputation is done. And then the emg signals are taken up by surface EMG sensors placed in accordance with the musculature.
It is still not for everyone: the solution
As the working mechanism suggests, the presence of the muscles are essential for the generation of EMG signals. The muscles must be kept in a functional state if a workable signal strength is to be obtained. Amputations are desperate measures taken for saving a life from certain doom. Clearly these procedures are performed as a last resort in most cases. Thus it is not always possible to preserve all the relevant muscles in a functional state. Even if they are preserved many amputees refrain from going through the arduous journey of bionic reconstruction.
The future holds the solution, in the form of the neuromusculoskeletal sensor paradigm. These sensors are invasive in nature and can reach the deeply embedded nerve bundles. Thus the presence of residual muscles in a functional state is somewhat redundant if these sensors are deployed. This paradigm additionally comes with a blessing. As it can reach the sensory nerves as well, with proper hardware support a bionic prosthesis of the future might become adept in sensing temperature, pressure and maybe even friction. Which will only make a prosthesis wielding experience more empowering, reassuring and safer.
The revolution in wielding experience
With time, prostheses are poised to become more efficient and accessible. Even for a country like ours, the future of prosthetics in terms of availability seems bright. And maybe with advancements to be made in the future, they will be applied universally for any amputee irrespective of anatomical features. An artificial hand can not however replace a real hand and can only give back a fraction of the lost abilities. But the experience an amputee gets today is the fruit of hundreds if not thousands of years of research and development. Today, a prosthesis utilizes composite materials with a high strength to weight ratio. As a result, the prostheses are lighter, stronger and easier to wield. The future might witness the use of carbon fibre in the build of a bionic prosthesis on a greater scale than it is utilized today. The components of a prosthesis that come in direct contact with skin are now made up of superhydrophobic materials known for preventing water retention. Hence there is a very little deposition of sweat and the surface presents very low friction. The experience thus is full of promises of hygiene and comfort.
Overall the future of prosthetics as a discipline seems to be a bright one. Full of promises that might change the way we look at amputations entirely. Like all the other life-changing inventions we have had, prostheses are perhaps the ones with the most up-close and intimate approach to making life easier.