Truly Artificially Intelligent Limbs



Technological integration of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning in the Prosthetic and Orthotic industry has become a boon for persons with disabilities. The concept of neural network has been used by the leading manufacturers of rehabilitation aids for simulating various anatomical and biomechanical functions of the lost parts of the human body.


Moving from the lab to real-life is not only a scientific challenge but also an engineering challenge. AI and neural interfaces are fundamental but will need robust, efficient, and lightweight designs to succeed. Advances in prosthetics, especially brain-machine interface wearables, are coming up with innovations that enable us to measure and stimulate the electrical impulses from neurons. As a result, much smarter and more adaptive prostheses are approaching a reality in which replacement with artificial appendages offer near-normal function.


Advancement in the field of AI and robotics has created a ray of hope for millions of persons with disabilities through physical rehab devices such as Bionic led, mind-controlled prosthesis, and exoskeletons. The basis of incorporating artificial intelligence in robotic prostheses is that the algorithm interprets nerve signals from the patient's muscles that will allow for the prosthesis to be controlled more precisely. 


The technique is based on a regenerative peripheral nerve interface. Surgeons use a small piece of muscle and wrap it around the amputated nerve to produce amplified signals. This is then applied to machine learning algorithms to turn the alerts into subtle prosthetics movements like picking up small things, making a fist, or pinching fingers together!


A team of engineers at the University of Utah has designed a new approach to prosthetic limb movement that uses artificial intelligence to mimic the user's residual leg's motion, making the act of walking smoother and more intuitive.


Rejoint has developed a solution for knee replacement based on the integration of 3D Additive Manufacturing, AI, and the Internet of Things, which enables the design of personalized implants and surgical simulation-based on unique patient anatomy.


Kernel is an early-stage brain-machine interface company developing neuroprosthesis to mimic, repair, and improve cognition. Kernel's Neuroscience gives on-demand access to its brain recording technology. They are now finding a way to measure and stimulate many neurons' electrical impulses at once. The technology will be used clinically for diseases such as depression or Alzheimer's.


Dreem based in San Francisco is a neurotechnology startup that has developed a sleep-monitoring, head-mounted wearable. The device uses EEG electrodes to monitor and analyze brain activity during sleep. It then uses "bone conduction technology" to modulate brain activity by emitting subtle sounds at precise moments that the company claims enhances the overall quality of deep sleep. 


Thync, again a San Francisco based startup, has developed a small, wearable "pod" that attaches to the back of the neck and uses neurostimulation to combat stress and promote better sleep. The product is targeted towards consumers who frequently suffer from anxiety and consequently struggle to sleep. 


BrainCo, a product of the Harvard Innovation Lab, specializes in brain-machine interface wearables. The company's main product line is the Focus series, which offers wearable headbands for education, fitness, and mind-controlled games.  BrainCo has also expanded into prosthetics, working under the name BrainRobotics. The company is developing a robotic prosthetic hand that can be controlled by the user's mind. 


Flow Neuroscience uses brain stimulation to treat depression. The company has developed a headset that delivers transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) to the forehead, which, according to the company, reverses neural activity imbalances in the frontal lobe observed in people with depression. 


DEKA is a New Hampshire based company that builds a robotic arm prosthesis designed to restore body functionality for individuals with upper extremity amputations. After the replanted nerves are innervated on the chest muscles, the amputated or paralyzed patient will have to think about the arm and hand movements. The result is a contracted muscle that will move according to what the individual is thinking of.


Exii is a Japanese startup that builds affordable, stylish, and highly functional electronic prosthetic arms. The sensors, strapped around a wearer's arm, detect muscle signals, and five artificial fingers, linked to a built-in motor, automatically change finger angles according to the degree of muscle expansion and contraction.


Ekso Bionics is a leading developer of wearable exoskeletons that amplify human potential such as human mobility, strength, and endurance for military, civilian, and medical uses. It offers technologies that range from helping those with paralysis to stand up and walk.


ReWalk Robotics is an innovative medical device company designing, developing, and commercializing exoskeletons allowing individuals who use wheelchairs to stand and walk.


CYBERDYNE Inc. is a venture firm established to materialize the idea to utilize Robot Suit HAL for the benefits of humankind in medicine, caregiving, welfare, labor, and massive works, entertainment, and so on.


AI and Robotics for future Prosthetics


Research shows that every 30 seconds, there could be an amputee in some parts of the world. These numbers are likely to increase in the coming years owing to various factors such as aging populations, increased incidence of vascular diseases, gangrenes resulting from uncontrolled diabetes mellitus, and trauma that could lead to amputations.


Without any doubt, there's a promise for amputees with advances in robotics, machine learning, and prosthetics. The developments will improve future artificial limbs and turn them into truly artificially intelligent limbs. AI-powered prostheses, with their abilities to be upgraded both on the hardware and software fronts, hold the potential to be superior to biological arms, and they could be used in the future even to augment the capacities of manual workers.


Powered prostheses aim to mimic the missing biological limb with controllers that are finely tuned to replicate the nominal gait pattern of non-amputee individuals. But this control approach poses a problem with real-world ambulation, which includes tasks such as crossing over obstacles, where the prosthesis trajectory must be modified to provide adequate foot clearance and ensure timely foot placement.


It is a formidable challenge to replicate lost anatomical structure and function. High costs of these devices are significant limitations as many persons with disabilities cannot afford it. Government bodies, manufacturing units, and funding agencies must come forward and invest in this field so that the highest quality and latest technology reach a larger population of disabled at an affordable cost.


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