After a year-long trial, Icelandic orthopedics company Ossur has unveiled its mind-controlled prosthetic leg. In a small trial of the new system, researchers demonstrated that patients could control the robotic foot just like healthy people, simply by thinking about it.
It works through implanted myoelectric sensor (IMES) technology, where the sensors are inserted into the patient's limb muscles. They claim that this is the first prosthetic limb to use a sensor implanted directly into the limb without the need to transplant nerve tissue from another part of the body to make it work. After unveiling this latest technology at an event in Copenhagen, the company is preparing to start large-scale clinical trials, with the aim to initiate mass production within the next five years
One of the people who has been trialling it for the last year is Gudmundar Olaffson. He had his foot amputated ten years ago after a childhood traffic accident. “As soon as I put my foot on, it took me about 10 minutes to get control of it. I could stand up and just walk away… It was really strange. I couldn't explain it. It was like, I was moving it with my muscles, there was nobody else doing it, the foot was not doing it, I was doing it, so it was really strange and overwhelming,” Olafsson told Reuters.
The surgery to implant the IMES tech is incredibly easy. All it takes is a 15 minute operation, placing each sensor into the tissue through incisions just a centimeter long. When inserted, unless the sensors are damaged or for some other reason fail, they don’t ever need to be replaced.
“So, the brain power, when it takes over, it actually gives impulses through the brain into the muscles, then the muscles contract. We put sensors into the muscles, and the muscles would pick up the signals, and the signals move their way [wirelessly] into the prosthetics, and then the prosthetics react as your brain wants,” Thorvaldur Ingvarsson, the surgeon who completed the operation, told Reuters.
It seems that every few years there is a new announcement proclaiming that some new technology has been developed to allow mind-controlled prosthetic limbs. But, according to Popular Science, this is the first to be able to demonstrate that the technology is relatively simple to fit, can work in real life and function for a prolonged period of time, rather than requiring complex surgery or others that have only been shown to work in the laboratory.
The company hope to be on their way to producing prosthetics that help to promote muscle growth and reduce muscle atrophy, a common problem amongst amputees. By forcing people to actively use their muscles when they walk, they believe that the new prosthetic could be able to improve the user's gait and general fitness.