Biomechatronics – one of science’s most rapidly developing areas – is a field that encompasses biology, mechanics and electronics. Examples of inventions that have sprouted from this field include, ECG’s, surgical robotics, medical cameras, and other body monitoring devices. One of the most recent discoveries in this field have sprouted from combinations of robotics and neuroscience, in which researchers have been working to develop prosthetic limbs that render the user under complete control of its functions – solely relying on the individual’s own cognitive processes.
One of the most notable breakthrough stories that I read about belongs to that of Pierpaolo Petruzzellio. Petruzzellio, an Italian man, lost his left arm in a car accident at the age of 25. Scientists in Rome quickly grasped this unfortunate event in Petruzzellio’s life as an opportunity to test their latest technology in hopes of giving him the chance of gaining a fully functional arm again. Electrodes were placed on the nerves that remained in Petruzzellio’s forearm, and were then attached to a robotic arm through a network of cables and wires. Though the arm was not directly attached to his body, Petruzzellio claimed after a month he began to feel sensations in the artificial limb – almost as if he had a real arm again. All this in consideration, the process was certainly not easy. It took Petruzzellio about a month of consistent focus and determination to begin to control the robotic arm to form even the most primitive of hand gestures, (wiggling of fingers, clenched fists, etc) and even then they were still shaky and took a great amount of mental control. Nonetheless, the dexterity exhibited by Petruzzellio was something that had never been witnessed before in this field of science.
Though this is undoubtedly an amazing advancement in biomechatronic science, one may wonder – where can the possibilities end? Now that scientists are well on their way to providing fully functional, consciously controlled prosthetics, what’s not to stop them from further developing these projects – branching out from aiding the disabled, to augmenting the abilities of normal, healthy humans? What if scientists are able to create robotic legs, capable of running never before seen speeds and carrying inhuman strength? What if 10 years down the road, humans were capable of being mechanically fitted to possess multiple limbs? In sports, could these mechanical advantages for the disabled be deemed appropriate?
Where should the line be drawn? As long as Arnold Schwarzenegger as Terminator doesn’t show up anytime soon, I think I’ll be all right.
Check out this amazing video depicting the science behind Petruzzellio’s artificial limb, and his experiences.