Bionic Prosthetics

Limb reanimation through neuroscience and machine learning

From First paralysed person to be ‘reanimated’ offers neuroscience insights : Nature

A quadriplegic man who has become the first person to be implanted with technology that sends signals from the brain to muscles — allowing him to regain some movement in his right arm hand and wrist — is providing novel insights about how the brain reacts to injury.

Two years ago, 24-year-old Ian Burkhart from Dublin, Ohio, had a microchip implanted in his brain, which facilitates the ‘reanimation’ of his right hand, wrist and fingers when he is wired up to equipment in the laboratory.

and

Bouton and his colleagues took fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) scans of Burkhart’s brain while he tried to mirror videos of hand movements. This identified a precise area of the motor cortex — the area of the brain that controls movement — linked to these movements. Surgery was then performed to implant a flexible chip that detects the pattern of electrical activity arising when Burkhart thinks about moving his hand, and relays it through a cable to a computer. Machine-learning algorithms then translate the signal into electrical messages, which are transmitted to a flexible sleeve that wraps around Burkhart’s right forearm and stimulates his muscles.

Burkhart is currently able to make isolated finger movements and perform six different wrist and hand motions, enabling him to, among other things, pick up a glass of water, and even play a guitar-based video game.

This story is one year and a half old, but I just found out about it and I think it’s a critical piece of the big picture that H+ is trying to narrate.

A deeper look into Kernel’s plan to create a brain prosthetic

From Inside the Race to Build a Brain-Machine Interface—and Outpace Evolution | WIRED

The scientists from Kernel are there for a different reason: They work for Bryan Johnson, a 40-year-old tech entrepreneur who sold his business for $800 million and decided to pursue an insanely ambitious dream—he wants to take control of evolution and create a better human. He intends to do this by building a “neuroprosthesis,” a device that will allow us to learn faster, remember more, “coevolve” with artificial intelligence, unlock the secrets of telepathy, and maybe even connect into group minds. He’d also like to find a way to download skills such as martial arts, Matrix-style. And he wants to sell this invention at mass-market prices so it’s not an elite product for the rich.

Right now all he has is an algorithm on a hard drive. When he describes the neuroprosthesis to reporters and conference audiences, he often uses the media-friendly expression “a chip in the brain,” but he knows he’ll never sell a mass-market product that depends on drilling holes in people’s skulls. Instead, the algorithm will eventually connect to the brain through some variation of noninvasive interfaces being developed by scientists around the world, from tiny sensors that could be injected into the brain to genetically engineered neurons that can exchange data wirelessly with a hatlike receiver. All of these proposed interfaces are either pipe dreams or years in the future, so in the meantime he’s using the wires attached to Dickerson’s hippo­campus to focus on an even bigger challenge: what you say to the brain once you’re connected to it.

That’s what the algorithm does. The wires embedded in Dickerson’s head will record the electrical signals that Dickerson’s neurons send to one another during a series of simple memory tests. The signals will then be uploaded onto a hard drive, where the algorithm will translate them into a digital code that can be analyzed and enhanced—or rewritten—with the goal of improving her memory. The algorithm will then translate the code back into electrical signals to be sent up into the brain. If it helps her spark a few images from the memories she was having when the data was gathered, the researchers will know the algorithm is working. Then they’ll try to do the same thing with memories that take place over a period of time, something nobody’s ever done before. If those two tests work, they’ll be on their way to deciphering the patterns and processes that create memories.

Although other scientists are using similar techniques on simpler problems, Johnson is the only person trying to make a commercial neurological product that would enhance memory. In a few minutes, he’s going to conduct his first human test. For a commercial memory prosthesis, it will be the first human test.

Long and detailed report on what Kernel is doing. Really worth your time.

An implant to control the movements of a bionic hand and to communicate with his wife

From When man meets metal: rise of the transhumans | Technology | The Guardian

One of the inspirations for Vintiner’s journey into this culture was Professor Kevin Warwick, deputy vice-chancellor at Coventry University, who back in 1998 was the first person to put a silicon chip transponder under his skin (that enabled him to open doors and switch on lights automatically as he moved about his department) and to declare himself “cyborg”. Four years later Warwick pioneered a “Braingate” implant, which involved hundreds of electrodes tapping into his nervous system and transferring signals across the internet, first to control the movements of a bionic hand, and then to connect directly and “communicate” with his wife, who had a Braingate of her own.

In some ways Warwick’s work seemed to set the parameters of the bodyhacking experience: full of ambition, somewhat risky, mostly outlawed. The Braingate system is now being explored in America to help some patients suffering paralysis, but Warwick’s DIY work has not been widely taken up by either mainstream medicine, academia or commercial tech companies. He and his wife remain the only couple to have communicated “nervous system to nervous system” through pulses that it took six weeks for their brains to “hear”.

While this segment is the most interesting, the whole article is a long and fascinating journey into the biohacking counter-culture.

The first detailed neuroimaging investigation in patients with bionic limbs

From Observing How the Brain Learns to Control a Bionic Limb | Technology Networks

Targeted motor and sensory reinnervation (TMSR) is a surgical procedure on patients with amputations that reroutes residual limb nerves towards intact muscles and skin in order to fit them with a limb prosthesis allowing unprecedented control. By its nature, TMSR changes the way the brain processes motor control and somatosensory input; however the detailed brain mechanisms have never been investigated before and the success of TMSR prostheses will depend on our ability to understand the ways the brain re-maps these pathways.

and

a patient fitted with a TMSR prosthetic “sends” motor commands to the re-innervated muscles, where his or her movement intentions are decoded and sent to the prosthetic limb. On the other hand, direct stimulation of the skin over the re-innervated muscles is sent back to the brain, inducing touch perception on the missing limb.

Upper limb cortical maps in amputees with targeted muscle and sensory reinnervation

From Upper limb cortical maps in amputees with targeted muscle and sensory reinnervation | Brain

Neuroprosthetics research in amputee patients aims at developing new prostheses that move and feel like real limbs. Targeted muscle and sensory reinnervation (TMSR) is such an approach and consists of rerouting motor and sensory nerves from the residual limb towards intact muscles and skin regions. Movement of the myoelectric prosthesis is enabled via decoded electromyography activity from reinnervated muscles and touch sensation on the missing limb is enabled by stimulation of the reinnervated skin areas. Here we ask whether and how motor control and redirected somatosensory stimulation provided via TMSR affected the maps of the upper limb in primary motor (M1) and primary somatosensory (S1) cortex, as well as their functional connections.

Functional connectivity in TMSR patients between upper limb maps in M1 and S1 was comparable with healthy controls, while being reduced in non-TMSR patients. However, connectivity was reduced between S1 and fronto-parietal regions, in both the TMSR and non-TMSR patients with respect to healthy controls. This was associated with the absence of a well-established multisensory effect (visual enhancement of touch) in TMSR patients. Collectively, these results show how M1 and S1 process signals related to movement and touch are enabled by targeted muscle and sensory reinnervation. Moreover, they suggest that TMSR may counteract maladaptive cortical plasticity typically found after limb loss, in M1, partially in S1, and in their mutual connectivity. The lack of multisensory interaction in the present data suggests that further engineering advances are necessary (e.g. the integration of somatosensory feedback into current prostheses) to enable prostheses that move and feel as real limbs.

Bionic Prosthetics 101

From Mind-controlled bionic limbs are shaping the future of prosthetics – The National Student

Using a “biological amplifier” the muscle signals were amplified thousandfold by shifting the major nerves that normally went down the arm and letting them grow into the chest instead. When you think of closing your hand, a chest section will contract and electrodes will pick up those signals to tell the prosthetic arm to move.

The brain exchanges information through neural circuits, which have receptors to sense a stimulus, report this back to the nervous system and produce an appropriate response via motor neurons which lead to movement.
A touch on the chest would actually lead to the sensation of a touch on the patient’s phantom arm, even his missing fingers. Senses of hot, cold, as well as sharpness and dullness were all felt and this provided a way to restore sensation using a prosthetic hand “that feels”.

A small microcomputer sits on the patient’s back connected to the prosthetic which is trained by the patient’s mind to move in specific directions and perform different tasks.

If you are new to bionic prosthetic technologies, this is a great introductory article about all recent approaches.

The Market for Bionic Prosthetics

From Medical Bionic Implants And Exoskeletons Market Projected CAGR of 7.5% During the period 2017-2027 – The Edition Truth

The global medical bionic implants and exoskeletons market stood at U$ 454.5 Mn in 2016. It is expected to expand at a CAGR of 7.5% during the period 2017-2027 to reach U$ 1,001.4 Mn. Factors such as rising amputation rates, diabetes, arthritis, trauma cases and expanding ageing demographics have led to a higher number of bionic implants and exoskeletons procedures. According to National Center for Health Statistics, 185,000 new amputations are consistently being performed in the U.S every year. Advancement in new robotics technology (mind-controlled bionic limbs & exoskeletons) coupled with 3D printing is also positively impacting the growth of the market.

This is just the market for addressing a disability or impairment (aka “fixing”). There will be a market for intentional augmentation (aka “improving”).

Portuguese startup develops a smart glove to increase strength and coordination by augmenting the motion of palm and digits

From The Nuada smart glove gives your hand bionic powers | TechCrunch

The Nuada is a smart glove. It gives back hand strength and coordination by augmenting the motions of your palm and digits. It acts as an electromechanical support system that lets you perform nearly superhuman feats or simply perform day-to-day tasks. The glove contains electronic tendons that can help the hand open and close and even perform basic motions and a sensor tells doctors and users about their pull strength, dexterity, and other metrics.

“We then use our own electromechanical system to support the user in the movement he wants to do,” said Quinaz. “This makes us able to support incredible weights with a small system, that needs much less energy to function. We can build the first mass adopted exoskeleton solutions with our technology.”

If we increase human empathy by 30 percent, would we still have war?

From The Biomechatronic Man | Outside Online

On it are the PowerPoint slides of his next big project, a breathtaking $100 million, five-year proposal focused on paralysis, depression, amputation, epilepsy, and Parkinson’s disease. Herr is still trying to raise the money, and the work will be funneled through his new brainchild, MIT’s Center for Extreme Bionics, a team of faculty and researchers assembled in 2014 that he codirects. After exploring various interventions for each condition, Herr and his colleagues will apply to the FDA to conduct human trials. One to-be-explored intervention in the brain might, with the right molecular knobs turned, augment empathy. “If we increase human empathy by 30 percent, would we still have war?” Herr asks. “We may not.”

and

The idea of an endlessly upgradable human is something Herr feels in his bones. “I believe in the near future, in a decade or two, when you walk down the streets of Boston, you’ll routinely see people wearing bionic systems,” Herr told ABC News in a 2016 interview. In 100 years, he thinks the human form will be unrecognizable. The inference is that the abnormal will be normal, beauty rethought and reborn. Unusual people like Herr will have come home.

We’re essentially replacing the eye and the optic nerve completely

From Blind Patients to Test Bionic Eye Brain Implants – MIT Technology Review

The maker of the world’s first commercial artificial retina, which provides partial sight to people with a certain form of blindness, is launching a clinical trial for a brain implant designed to restore vision to more patients. The company, Second Sight, is testing whether an array of electrodes placed on the surface of the brain can return limited vision to people who have gone partially or completely blind.

Also known as a bionic eye, all three devices are intended to bring back some vision in patients with a genetic eye disorder called retinitis pigmentosa. The disease causes gradual vision loss when light-sensing cells called photoreceptors break down in the retina—the tissue membrane that coats the back of the eye.

and

The new device, the Orion, borrows about 90 percent of its technology from the Argus II but bypasses the eye. Instead, an array of electrodes is placed on the surface of the visual cortex, the part of the brain that processes visual information. Delivering electrical pulses here should tell the brain to perceive patterns of light.

A major downside is the device requires a more invasive surgery than the Argus II. A small section of the skull needs to be removed to expose the area of the brain where the array of electrodes is placed. Because electrical brain implants carry risks like infection or seizures, the first clinical trial will be small, and the company will start off by testing the implant in patients who are completely blind.

Addressing disabilities is just the beginning for bionics

From Hugh Herr: The new bionics that let us run, climb and dance | TED.com

Hugh Herr is building the next generation of bionic limbs, robotic prosthetics inspired by nature’s own designs. Herr lost both legs in a climbing accident 30 years ago; now, as the head of the MIT Media Lab’s Biomechatronics group, he shows his incredible technology in a talk that’s both technical and deeply personal — with the help of ballroom dancer Adrianne Haslet-Davis, who lost her left leg in the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, and performs again for the first time on the TED stage.

Addressing disabilities is just the beginning. You can tell that Herr wants bionic prosthetics to augment humans beyond their limits.

An incredible TED Talk.

What does it mean to be a human?

From Why You Will One Day Have a Brain Computer Interface | WIRED

Bryan Johnson, an entrepreneur who in 2013 made a bundle by selling his company, Braintree, to Paypal for $800 million. Last year, he used $100 million of that to start Kernel, a company that is exploring how to build and implant chips into the skulls of those with some form of neurological disease and dysfunction, to reprogram their neural networks to restore some of their lost abilities.

When asked why humans have to manipulate their brains, Jonhnson replies:

Humans currently reign supreme on planet Earth, because we are the most powerful form of intelligence. So therefore, we decide who we eat, who we have as pets, who we allow to go extinct, who is saved, who is neutered, who can reproduce. We are currently developing a new form of intelligence in the form of AI that is increasingly capable, whether it’s conscious or not. For humans to be relevant in a matter of decades there is no choice other than to unlock our brains and intervene in our cognitive evolution. If you try to imagine a world where we are happy 30, 40, 50 years from now, there is no version of that future where we have not been able to figure out how to read and write our neural code.

I met one of the neuroscientists behind Kernel at the TED Global 2017 conference. Quite interesting conversation.

Bionik Laboratories Explores Voice-Controlled Exoskeleton

From This exoskeleton can be controlled using Amazon’s Alexa – The Verge

Bionik Laboratories says it’s the first to add the digital assistant to a powered exoskeleton. The company has integrated Alexa with its lower-body Arke exoskeleton, allowing users to give voice commands like “Alexa, I’m ready to stand” or “Alexa, take a step.”

Movement of the Arke, which is currently in clinical development, is usually controlled by an app on a tablet or by reacting automatically to users’ movements. Sensors in the exoskeleton detect when the wearer shifts their weight, activating the motors in the backpack that help the individual move. For Bionik, adding Alexa can help individuals going through rehabilitation get familiar with these actions.

Voice-controlled exoskeleton is an interesting way to overcome the complexity of creating sophisticated brain-machine interfaces, but current technology has a lot of limitations. For example, Alexa doesn’t have yet voice fingerprinting, so anybody in the room could, maliciously or not, utter a command on behalf of the user and harm that person with an undesired exoskeleton movement at the wrong time.

Nonetheless, these are valuable baby steps. If you are interested in Bionik Laboratories, you can see a lot more in their on-stage presentation at IBM Insight conference in 2015.

Did you know that the wheelchair was invented 1500 years ago?

Omega Ophthalmics turning the human eye into a platform for AR

From Omega Ophthalmics is an eye implant platform with the power of continuous AR | TechCrunch

… lens implants aren’t a new thing. Implanted lenses are commonly used as a solve for cataracts and other degenerative diseases mostly affecting senior citizens; about 3.6 million patients in the U.S. get some sort of procedure for the disease every year.

Cataract surgery involves removal of the cloudy lens and replacing it with a thin artificial type of lens. Co-founder and board-certified ophthalmologist Gary Wortz saw an opportunity here to offer not just a lens but a platform to which other manufacturers could add different interactive sensors, drug delivery devices and the inclusion of AR/VR integration.

Maybe there’s a surprisingly large audience among the over 60 that is willing to try and get a second youth through biohacking. Maybe over 60s will become the first true augmented humans.

Chinese researchers develop colour-shifting electronic skin

From Colour-shifting electronic skin could have wearable tech and prosthetic uses – IOP Publishing

researchers in China have developed a new type of user-interactive electronic skin, with a colour change perceptible to the human eye, and achieved with a much-reduced level of strain. Their results could have applications in robotics, prosthetics and wearable technology.

…the study from Tsinghua University in Beijing, employed flexible electronics made from graphene, in the form of a highly-sensitive resistive strain sensor, combined with a stretchable organic electrochromic device.

ReWalk Robotics makes progress with its soft exoskeleton

From ReWalk Robotics shows off a soft exosuit designed to bring mobility to stroke patients | TechCrunch

The version on display is still a prototype, but all of the functionality is in place, using a motorized pulley system to bring mobility to legs impacted by stroke.

The device, now known as the Restore soft-suit, relies on a motor built into a waistband that controls a pair of cables that operate similarly to bicycle brakes, lifting a footplate in the shoe and moving the whole leg in the process. The unaffected leg, meanwhile, has sensors that measure the wearer’s gait while walking, syncing up the two legs’ movement.

The Human Body as a battery for bionic prosthetics

From Your body is a big battery and scientists want to power gadgets with it – The Verge

There are many ways self-powered devices can work. One is piezoelectric energy, which is generated when you apply pressure to certain materials. Another method, more common in the public imagination, is harvesting movement. But while movement seems obvious, it’s not practical to have a device that only works when you’re in motion. So, for many researchers, the best source of energy is body heat, or thermoelectric generation.

Thermoelectric generation works because our bodies are almost always a different temperature from the air outside. Thermoelectric generators pick up on the temperature difference and then use that to create energy, says Daryoosh Vashaee, an electrical engineer at North Carolina State University. Last year, his team built a tiny device that did just that. It’s a metallic tab that can be embedded in a shirt or worn on an armband.

149 research papers on brain augmentation

From Augmentation of Brain Function: Facts, Fiction and Controversy | Frontiers Research Topic

Augmentation of brain function is no longer just a theme of science fiction. Due to advances in neural sciences, it has become a matter of reality that a person may consider at some point in life, for example as a treatment of a neurodegenerative disease. Currently, several approaches offer enhancements for sensory, motor and cognitive brain functions, as well as for mood and emotions. Such enhancements may be achieved pharmacologically, using brain implants for recordings, stimulation and drug delivery, by employing brain-machine interfaces, or even by ablation of certain brain areas.

I plan to review all of them.

First 3D printed soft artificial heart 

From Researchers 3D print a soft artificial heart that works a lot like a real one | TechCrunch

The heart was created using a 3D-printed method that lets the researchers make a complex inner structure while still using soft, flexible material as its structure. The whole thing is basically one single part (a “monoblock”), so there’s no need to worry about how different internal mechanisms fit together — except at the input and output ports, where blood would come and go.

In tests the heart worked quite well, pushing a blood-like fluid along against body-like pressures. There is, of course, a catch.

This heart is a proof of concept, not built for actual implantation — so the materials they made it from don’t last more than a few thousands beats. That’s about half an hour, depending on your heart rate

DARPA Grants $65 Million for Advanced Brain-Computer Interfaces

From U.S. to Fund Advanced Brain-Computer Interfaces – MIT Technology Review

Paradromics’s haul is as much as $18 million, but the money comes with a “moonshot”-like list of requirements—the implant should be not much bigger than a nickel, must record from one million neurons, and must also be able to send signal back into the brain. 

The US Department of Defense certainly wants to beat Elon Musk’s Neuralink at this game.

Cardiac tissue engineering: from matrix design to the engineering of bionic hearts

From Cardiac tissue engineering: from matrix design to the engineering of bionic hearts | Regenerative Medicine

The field of cardiac tissue engineering aims at replacing the scar tissue created after a patient has suffered from a myocardial infarction. Various technologies have been developed toward fabricating a functional engineered tissue that closely resembles that of the native heart. While the field continues to grow and techniques for better tissue fabrication continue to emerge, several hurdles still remain to be overcome. In this review we will focus on several key advances and recent technologies developed in the field, including biomimicking the natural extracellular matrix structure and enhancing the transfer of the electrical signal. We will also discuss recent developments in the engineering of bionic cardiac tissues which integrate the fields of tissue engineering and electronics to monitor and control tissue performance.

High-Performance Piezoresistive Electronic Skin with Bionic Hierarchical Microstructure and Microcracks

From High-Performance Piezoresistive Electronic Skin with Bionic Hierarchical Microstructure and Microcracks – ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces (ACS Publications)

Electronic skin (E-skin), a popular research topic at present, has achieved significant progress in a variety of sophisticated applications. However, the poor sensitivity and stability severely limit the development of its application. Here, we present a facile, cost-effective, and scalable method for manufacturing E-skin devices with bionic hierarchical microstructure and microcracks. Our devices exhibit high sensitivity (10 kPa–1) and excellent durability (10 000 cycles). The synergistic enhancement mechanism of the hierarchical microstructure and the microcracks on the conductive layers was discovered. Moreover, we carried out a series of studies on the airflow detection and the noncontact speech recognition.

Student develops a controllable Third Thumb to augment human capabilities

From Controllable Third Thumb lets wearers extend their natural abilities

For her graduate work at the Royal College of Art, Dani Clode created a wearable third thumb that can help its user carry more objects, squeeze lemons or play complex chords on the guitar.

The Third Thumb is a motorised, controllable extra digit, designed for anyone who wants to extend their natural abilities.

Dezeen has some great photos and videos of this.