Research in the field of smart prosthetics has come a long way in the last few years, thanks to the developments in the field of digital healthcare technology and the Internet of Medical Things. Breakthrough in AI and Robotics has led to revolutionary physical rehab devices such as mind-controlled prosthesis, and exoskeletons. When AI is incorporated in these smart prostheses, it enables the algorithm to interpret electric nerve signals from the patient's muscles so that the prosthesis can be controlled more precisely.
Additive manufacturing is tremendously shaping the human ability to create wearable devices. Prosthetic limbs designed and manufactured with the help of 3D printed prosthetics are an attractive option for limb replacement. To add new dimensions to its functionality, Troy Baverstock, from Australia’s Griffith University applied the concepts of 3D printing to create an extension for prosthetic legs called limbU.
The smart electronics and sensors attached to limbU give the artificial-limb user the advantage of effectively responding to both internal and external stimuli. For example- limbU can not only perform daily activities but it can also monitor bodily movements, perform complex activities like browsing the phone, tracking the wearer’s location, and updating the physician about the wearer’s medical info related to rehabilitation. To make it even, more attractive, there is a feature to change the outer cover of the extension to match the occasion.
Iceland-based Össur is a startup that is collaborating with the US-based Alfred Mann Foundation to develop mind-controlled prosthetic limbs that is lightweight and has a longer power autonomy. If the patient has had orthopedic surgery, Trac Patch could collect data of the patient’s daily activity and movement and communicate these to the doctor. This ensures effective care during the recovery phase. There is also a provision to encourage and reinforce the patient during the healing phase.
BPMpathway is a novel technology for monitoring the recovery of patients after orthopedic surgery. It has a pepped up wearable wireless sensor that is connected to the company’s network so that the patients’ recovery can be visualized using a smart device. Mymobility app provides constant updates during recovery after major arthroplasty procedure as it records data from knee and hip replacement patients and sends it to their physicians so that they can monitor their patients’ recovery much better than the traditional way.
The traditional prostheses had a major disadvantage in that the user could not feel tactile perception. E-dermis is an electronic skin consisting of fabric and rubber along with sensors that support to imitate the function of peripheral nerves by helping the user feel touch and pain. This gives the amputee a wide range of touch-based sensations.
Integrating AI into the prosthesis
Using regenerative peripheral nerve interface and machine learning algorithms, the prosthesis wearer is able to perform subtle movements such as picking up a fallen object or holding fingers together. This is possible because, during the surgery, a small piece of muscle is wrapped around the amputated nerve to produce amplified signals.
Scientist Mohsen Jafarzadeh from the University of Texas at Dallas uses AI and deep learning to control prosthetic hands with an EMG-based control system. In a major development, the convolutional neural network has been found to be useful to get more accurate and faster movements of the limbs. The system was re-trained and customized based on the prosthetic wears feedbacks using Python with TensorFlow deep learning library allowing the development of a more sophisticated prosthesis.
India-based Avocado is an AI-enabled smart prosthesis that allows daily activities such as gardening or drawing as well as tough activities like ploughing or picking heavy objects. Avocado is a wrist connector with a small mechanical adapter and device which could provide an upgrade to the existing user of a prosthesis while conserving battery life for a powered prosthetic hand.
BrainCo is a brain-machine interface wearable from the Harvard Innovation Lab. BrainRobotics is a robotic prosthetic hand that can be controlled by the user's mind. Similarly, Japanese robotics company Cyberdyne and Ekso Bionics have developed robotic exoskeleton suit, which increases body movement and strength by up to ten times.
There is a need for smart prosthetics to be compatible with everyday activities. Although the technology is attractive, more and more such wearable devices should be accessible to the common man by being available for desktop printing. It is a blessing as these smart prosthetics help the users during the post-surgical recovery phase by reducing hospital time and costs and improves patient motivation and rate of recovery.
By combining wearable sensors with mobile applications, these products help the patients and doctors monitor their recovery and to take any necessary intervention as and when the need arises. Powered prostheses provide a fantastic alternative to the missing biological limb that have controllers and sensors attached. These are being continuously improved to finetune and replicate the nominal gait pattern and activities of non-amputee individuals. The invention of newer wearables that have additional functions such as the sensation of touch and pain are a promise that the world will definitely be a better place for differently abled individuals.