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Embedded Electronics in Prosthetic Limbs

Advancement in embedded electronics has transformed the way people work, communicate and unwind. It has paved the way for the integration of home and office device networking so people can share, transfer and save data and information in rates that are faster than ever. It has also promoted safety, comfort and efficiency in aviation as well as in land and sea navigation.

Embedded electronics, however, can also improve lifestyle and over-all well-being by providing new and better equipment to help people, especially those who are physically challenged.

The DARPA Revolutionizing Prosthetics Program

Revolutionizing Prosthetics Program is an ambitious effort of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (or DARPA). The main goal of the program is to help rehabilitate members of the armed forces who have been injured in the line of duty. It is a costly project that intends to develop an integrated, life-like prosthetic limb that can be controlled using residual nerves, provide feedback and provide more features that the current prosthetic limbs do not offer.

The group has recently finished Proto 2, a descendant of Proto 1 that was developed by the same group. Proto 2 has more levels of freedom than the previous prototype. In effect, a handicapped person wearing the more advanced prototype actually regains enough functionality to be able to play a piano whereas a person wearing the older prosthetics model cannot do so. Aside from greater freedom and flexibility, the second prototype also lets the user distinguish varying temperatures and textures due to its large number of individual sensory feedback elements.

Plans and Prospects

The advanced prototype is designed to simulate a limb in every aspect, not excluding physical aspects. It would be constructed by sections, to customize the prosthetics to the user’s arm length and maximize the similarity of the prosthetics and the biological arm.

The prototype developers are also trying to reproduce human hand speed by using iridium-hydrogen peroxide pneumatic systems. They are looking at the possibility of using residual nerves to simulate natural sensation of grip and touch. Experiments that involve wirelessly sending messages and commands from the muscle to the prosthetic arm are underway. In these experiments, small sensory devices that can measure muscle movement are used; the result is relayed to a receiver located in the prosthetic limb.

To produce human-like arm movements, this prosthetic limb would also be fitted with carbon fiber and aluminum alloys. This would make the artificial limb strong and flexible enough to execute natural arm movements.

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