Having a bionic arm is a childhood dream for some, something which may stem from too many cartoons as a young person. Actually getting fitted with one involves taking a rocket-propelled grenade to the shoulder, as in the case of British soldier Corporal Andrew Garthwaite, so it’s not quite the occasion it would ideally be.
Corporal Garthwaite is somewhat of a test subject these days and he’s become one of the first in the UK to receive a mind-controlled bionic arm that doesn’t require a room-sized setup to control. The mechanised arm is controlled by a series of nerves that have been surgically placed in Andrew’s chest muscles. The nerves that would normally control his hand movements were moved there in an operation called a Targeted Muscle Reinnervation or TMR and the arm prosthetic connects to those nerves. It does come with a side effect though, he feels like there is a hand implanted in his chest and he has had to learn how to use it.
Garthwaite said “Because obviously I haven’t had a thumb or a finger for the last three years, then all of a sudden to start feeling stuff is a total weird feeling so you have got to train your brain to move this hand.”
The bionic arm is connected to those nerves, so thinking about moving the robotic fingers results in the artificial hand opening or closing. In the original BBC video, Garthwaite is shown making coffee, squashing a soft-drink can and performing what he calls his “party trick”. It’s not quite a fully-functional bionic limb but it’s a definite sign that the day is coming where limb replacements are almost as (or more) agile as the original body part.
If you’d like to see the video of Andrew’s robotic arm in action and catch a little more of his story, head on over to the source link for a glimpse at the future of prosthetics.