Stories tagged prosthetics

Nov
19
2008

This bunny isn't that cute: But it may be paralyzed, so it sort of fits with the story.
This bunny isn't that cute: But it may be paralyzed, so it sort of fits with the story.Courtesy Franco Folini
Cross reference with “cute,” “animal health,” and “cyborg.”

Yes, here at Science Buzz we tirelessly pursue any and all stories on wheeled animals for you, the Buzzketeer.

So check this out: a wheelie bunny! Oh, man!

What does this have to do with science? Um, I don’t know. Does it matter? Did you see that little bunny?

Ah, fine. It’s about animals, obviously, and animals are sort of sciencey. Health, too, I guess—Bun bun there was left paralyzed by some mystery disease. The pathology of rabbit paralysis probably isn’t a huge priority in medical research, so they don’t know exactly what happened to this bunny, but a number of conditions that affect the nervous system can result in paralysis. If you’re really into the many ways rabbits can become disabled, check out this page, but the short version is that roller-bun probably became paralyzed after a protozoal infection (protozoa, remember, are little, single-celled organisms), in particular an infection caused by the protozoan parasite Encephalitozoon cuniculi. For a little bit more on encephalitozoonosis click here.

And I guess this is sort of about prosthetics too, but old-school, basic prosthetics. No Luke Skywalker limbs for paralyzed bunnies.

The main thing, again, is that picture of the bunny.

Oct
06
2008

They stop bullets: But only—ONLY—after the bullets have had a go at Croatian supercheek.
They stop bullets: But only—ONLY—after the bullets have had a go at Croatian supercheek.Courtesy chriskeefe
The news item goes thusly: a Croatian couple gets on the wrong side of a gunfight (the middle side) and is fired upon. A bullet ricochets off the woman’s cheek, and hits her husband in the mouth, striking his false teeth. The man spits out the bullet, terrifying his attacker, who makes like a banana and splits. The couple, uninjured, makes major news outlets. Headline: “Man catches bullet in teeth.”

Indeed, the guy sort of did catch a bullet in the teeth. And I won’t argue that that isn’t kind of awesome, but the local police believe that things worked out so swimmingly for the false-toothed man because the bullet lost so much of its speed after hitting his wife in the cheek. Remember, the woman was uninjured…

What are Croatian women made of? There’s the real story: Bullet bounces harmlessly off woman’s face.

So… Science blog, science blog… Well, we have firearms physics and ballistics in general, as well as material sciences. The composition of the teeth, of course, is relevant, but also what could that cheek be made of that it could repel a bullet so well? I initially assumed that she might be a Kevlar woman, but I believe Kevlar is intended to absorb the force of a projectile to bring it to a stop, and I’m not sure if Kevlar ricochets are common. The cheek may be composed of a similarly impenetrable, yet more bouncy, material.

While we’re here, let us consider this compilation of high-speed footage of various objects being shot. Note that none of the objects are cheeks or teeth, as the results are apparently much less dramatic.

Jul
09
2008

The scariest of robots: And how do I know there's a monkey brain inside? Look how angry it is.
The scariest of robots: And how do I know there's a monkey brain inside? Look how angry it is.Courtesy litmuse
Oh, you’re probably the same way—how often do you find yourself thinking, “I wish monkeys were more terrifying. Sure, they’re all fanged little were-men, with hand-feet and clever brains, but there must be some way that they could be worse.”

Pretty often, huh?

And, when you watch the news, don’t you constantly find yourself musing, “Hmm. The future is looking a little too bright.”

Well, don’t worry, Buzzketeers. The future promises to be just as dark and bewildering as ever, and horrifying cyber-apes are part of it.

“Now, JGordon, it can’t be that bad.”

Hey! Don’t sound so disappointed; it is that bad. Skeptical? Check it out for yourself—Sciencemen and Techladies have trained two macaque monkeys to control huge robotic arms…using their monkey brains!

Macaques have shown their evil little faces on Science Buzz before (murderous enthusiasm and enthusiastic murder), and I don’t think a refresher on robots is at all necessary—because there’s no escaping them.

Robotic limbs are becoming kind of a big deal these days, but even the most advanced of them rely on nerves remaining in a partial limb, or another part of the body entirely; which muscles to activate for a certain function must be relearned, or an operation like gripping with a robotic hand can be linked to a movement like shrugging the shoulders. It’s tricky to do, and it pushes the brain’s flexibility, especially considering that the only feedback the limb gives might be a hot or poking sensation at the connection point (this in place of a real limb’s feedback, like the pressure, friction, or warmth one might feel through their hands or feet).

Wiring a prosthetic (or any robotic device) directly into the brain—as was the case with these monkeys and their robot arms—overcomes some of the problems with existing prosthetic technology, while adding some new challenges.

With electrodes implanted right into the brain, relearning limb function can come much more quickly and naturally (awful little monkeys can do it, after all). A little too quickly, actually—a monkey at Duke University was similarly wired up this winter to make a robot in Japan walk, and the robotic body actually received the signals to walk before the monkey’s actual body did. Limbs wired the same way could be too fast or powerful for the brain to initially cope with. You might, say, run into a wall before your brain has time to create another route for your robo-legs; the speed of the limb action would be faster than the speed of thought.

However, if the prosthetics operated with a “closed neural loop,” that is to say if they could be made to provide natural feedback to the brain (like heat, pressure, strain, etc), scientists think that the brain could adapt much more quickly, and could even learn whole new pathways of motion. So a person wired up in the right way might be able to control a plane, or a nanosized robot directly with their mind. And it wouldn’t be something where you would think about walking forward and the plane would fly forward—you would learn the plane’s movements of flying, feel the flying, and control it as if you were the plane. That sort of things is still a long way off, and unless new technology is invented to sense and input to the brain in another way, it would require having a bunch of electrodes stuck through your skull and into your neurons.

This, of course, is all scientific blah be de blah, and if distracts from the real issue behind the story: cyborg monkeys. Do you know what the monkeys were actually taught to do with their metal limbs? Feed themselves. How horrible. Why not just teach them how to operate guns with their minds, or remove human brains through our nasal passageways?

In time, that too will come to pass. Look forward to it.

Jun
25
2008

Night vision eyeballs: one of the many new features of Pets 2.0
Night vision eyeballs: one of the many new features of Pets 2.0Courtesy *robert
You know, I’ve said it before, but it’s about time we get rid of some of our old pets to make way for the new generation.

Think about it: your old pets—they stink, nobody’s impressed by them anymore, they’re always coming home drunk or not at all, they’ve got bad attitudes and ridiculous sense of entitlement. Why keep them around? Especially when there’s a whole new brand of pet on the horizon: cyberpooches*.

When a cooler new cell phone comes out, you don’t think much of discarding your old one for it, do you? And your pets can’t play streaming video, or mp3s, or send emails. Your pets can’t even make calls, can they?

Not…not really. Not as such. So dump the suckers and upgrade. Invest in a little rollermutt, like Hope McRollydog here.

Hope is a Maltese puppy. The Maltese is a toy/poodle breed, puffy, white, and weighing about as much as my phone, stapler, and mug put together. So they’ve already got some problems. This particular Maltese has the additional challenge of being born with no front legs.

Well, that’s not totally fair—I guess she had two wiggly little nubs, but not full legs by most standards.

Anyway, little Rollerderby Von Madmax has gotten pretty good at squirming around, and even at hopping around on her hind legs, but apparently that’s no good for dog backs—the backs of dogs—so someone had the clever idea of creating little wheely arms for her. Now Robo del Driver has a custom-cast body harness with two independent legs ending in model airplane wheels.

At first the pooch had a little trouble with the contraption, and kept falling over sideways (unfortunately, no video exists of this that I’m aware of), but now she’s zooming around at a “surprisingly break-neck pace.”

So that’s a happy story. Maybe not for you old pets, V1.0, but whatev.

Oh, a little genetic side note—sometimes when you boil down a gene pool to get certain traits to consistently express themselves, like you might when breeding, say, tiny show dogs, you end up running a risk of cultivating other, less cute traits. Like if you keep breeding little doggies with the puffiest, fluffiest white hair together, you’d probably get some puppies with the puffiest, fluffiest white hair. But if some of those very puffy, fluffy haired dogs happen to have a recessive gene for something like bad hips (which won’t affect the beautiful hair, and so is never bred out) eventually those recessive genes are going to meet, and you’re going to get a puffy, fluffy puppy with bad hips. Look at monarchies around the world—blood lines get twisted enough, and kings have royal relatives all over the place, but the also have hemophilia and sailboat ears.

This isn’t to say that little Dunebuggy Fuzzybutt’s condition came from irresponsible breeding. Even if it did, I’d say breed that little sucker again. The more Universal Soldier dogs, the better.

*I’m in the process of trademarking “cyberpooch,” “cyberpooches,” and “cyberpoochz,” so hands off, greedyguts.

Not the same turtle: But I only count one flipper.
Not the same turtle: But I only count one flipper.Courtesy jurvetson
This green sea turtle was found by tourists after having lost all but one of her flippers. With the help of the nonprofit group Sea Turtle Inc. she was able to survive, and her wounds were healed. Unfortunately, with just one flipper, the turtle can only swim in counterclockwise circles, and has to push herself off the floor of her pool with her head in order to surface for air. That's mostly sad.

She does, however, have a little stump left where one of her flippers were, for which her caregivers hope to construct the first prosthetic sea turtle limb ever (probably.)

A prosthetic turtle flipper. All right.

Jan
27
2008

Japanese monkey technology: Unlike anything we've ever seen.
Japanese monkey technology: Unlike anything we've ever seen.Courtesy Foraggio
Thanks to the work of Japanese and American scientists, a Japanese robot has been made to walk by signals coming from a monkey’s brain. A monkey-brained robot, if you will.

It leads me to wonder what robot monkeys are supposed to fling at visitors to the robot zoo. Chunks of metal, I’m guessing, if there are any left lying around, although apparently this wasn’t the focus of the project.

This is how it worked, basically: researchers at Duke University trained a monkey to walk on a treadmill (the least fun part of the experiment, I’m sure), and then jammed a bunch of wires into its brain (the most fun part of the experiment). The monkey was then made to take a stroll on the treadmill, and its neuron activity was recorded and translated into data that could be sent over the Internet (you’ve all heard of the Internet, right?). A lab in Kyoto received the data and routed it into a goofy little five-foot-tall robot, which was then impelled to walk around the lab like a monkey on a treadmill.

Said a press release of the event, "For the first time in the world, we were able to make [a] humanoid robot in Japan walk in real-time in a similar manner as [a] monkey." This is a bold statement, certainly. Perhaps a little too bold, considering that a joint Edo/Harvard University experiment in August of 1853, shortly after the sakoku era, produced much the same outcome, although one might argue that because of the lag period (this was back in the dial-up era) the results were somewhat less than real-time.

Regardless of the originality of project, there are some interesting implications here. Foremost, of course, are the applications that this kind of research could have for prosthetic limb technology. It is the hope of the researchers that results like these could help create artificial limbs that respond to neural activity in the wearer, in particular for paralyzed patients. Also, while I’ve already made my distrust of robots clear on this blog, I’m in favor of robotic monkeys. The way I see it, just as real monkeys make life a little more stressful for real people, robot monkeys can’t be making things any easier for humanoid robots (the most dangerous kind of robots). Consider that.

Jul
30
2007

Not every mummy gets wooden toes: But, then again, not every mummy needs wooden toes.    (image by Stuck_in_Customs on flickr.com)
Not every mummy gets wooden toes: But, then again, not every mummy needs wooden toes. (image by Stuck_in_Customs on flickr.com)
Another exciting news item has emerged from the fast-paced field of human prosthetics, although on the other end of the chronological spectrum from my post last week. Archaeologists believe they may have found the world’s earliest functioning prosthetic limb (so far).

Found on the right foot of an Egyptian mummy, dating from somewhere between 1000 and 600 BC, the prosthesis is a wood and leather big toe. It is not, however, the first ancient Egyptian false toe – another was found near the end of the 19th century, and is probably nearly the same age. The “new” artifact, however, is “articulated and shows signs of wear,” and was found attached to the mummy of a 50-60 year old woman, whose amputation site appears to have healed. The other toe was made of something like papier-mâché, and may have been simply ornamental and not actually supposed to help with walking (something the Egyptians are famous for).

A researcher at the University of Manchester has created an exact replica of the ancient toe, and is recruiting volunteers who have lost their right big toes to test the prosthesis’ functionality.

The previous record holder for “most ancient prosthesis” was a Roman bronze leg, dating to about 300 BC. It was, however, destroyed during the bombing of London in WWII.

Scientists believe that before the invention of objects like these functioning prosthetics, humans who had lost limbs must have resorted to tying everyday items like rocks, flowers, or small animals to amputation sites. Finds like the Egyptian toe force archaeologists to reevaluate the ingenuity of our ancestors, and push those dark days further and further into the depths of the past.

For a picture of the actual ancient toe, check out this article

Jul
22
2007

This is not the i-Limb: But all of Skynet's technology was reverse engineered from the chip inside.    (photo by DevanJedi on Flickr.com)
This is not the i-Limb: But all of Skynet's technology was reverse engineered from the chip inside. (photo by DevanJedi on Flickr.com)
The i-Limb is a robotic hand capable of a wide range of movement, unlike previous mechanical hands, which were generally limited to simple grip and release actions. It is controlled by a series of electrodes placed on the surface of the forearm, with subtle muscle movements activating each of the five motorized fingers.

Each of the fingers is replaceable individually, so, in the case of a wild dog attack or a drunken hammering accident, it would not be necessary to buy an entirely new hand because of a couple mangled i-fingers. This is good news, because the whole device is priced at about $17,000.

For those people who aren’t into the whole robotic hand look, the i-Limb can be fitted with realistic, custom-made skin. For a visual frame of reference, I’d turn the mind’s eye this way. Or just go to the i-Limb’s website.

News items on the i-Limb have yet to address some of the most important issues surrounding the release of bionic limbs, however. For instance, just what level of super-strength can users expect from the device? Are we talking coal-to-diamond squeezing power here, or just single-handed coconut crushing strength? I fully expect this information to be released soon.

The website has some nice videos of the device in action, including footage of the i-Limb being used to tie a necktie, and the i-Limb being used to load a shotgun. Date-night stuff.

There’s also this video, showcasing some of the development processes and testing of the i-Limb. I highly recommend it.