The history of prosthetics is a history of compromises. Uncomfortable devices, limited movement. And while amazing advances have been made, none is more stunning than Johnny Matheny’s arm.
Amputated in 2008 because of cancer, the arm has worn a host of different prosthetics to give Johnny back some of the function he lost to surgery. But now he is the beneficiary of two pioneering technologies funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (Darpa) and developed at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab.
Johnny’s new prosthetic doesn’t attach with a cuff but directly to the bone in his upper arm. This makes for a much more stable and comfortable connection than anything tried in the U.S. so far.
The second breakthrough sounds even more like science fiction. Using neural pathways still present in his arm and a system of sensors, Johnny can move his new artificial limb just by thinking about it.
In the future, the goal is to get that mind-controlled arm not only to respond to mental information but also to send information back to his brain. This would allow Johnny to feel textures and sense temperatures, bringing human and machine even closer together.