Over the past few years the technology for “bionic” body parts has sped on at a pace – driven in some way by the number of service personal returning home with life changing injuries.
There was a time when the army medical centre at Headley Court had a specialist arrive once a week to help the soldiers with the fitting and use of new limbs. This weekly service from one person is now a department staffed full-time by several people! As demand has risen so has the funding and then the research and development has forged ahead to bring some amazing advances in this area.
What may not be so obvious is that all this mechanical advancement must also be matched with a software element – which is just as important to the complete effect.
Perhaps the most depressing aspect of this work is that the initial progression in any area is highly expensive and often outside the realms of the general public. For instance army personnel have in general two false limbs (one perhaps for general everyday use and one for sport) whereas on the NHS someone would get one limb and that would often not be of the same calibre. Money talks and that is unlikely to change.
Ray Flynn, 80, has dry age-related macular degeneration which has led to the total loss of his central vision.
He is using a retinal implant which converts video images from a miniature video camera worn on his glasses.
Through a surgical operation (in July 2015) an implant is added behind the eye. Then a camera on glasses worn by the user sends a wireless image to the implant which picks up the signal and stimulates the retinas remaining cells to send visual signals to the brain – no fine visual images are as yet able to be seen by these implants but as with all technology this is the early stages and as things move forward more and more information will be available to the user as the system improves.
Within 2 weeks of this operation Mr Flynn was able to make out the outline of people and objects clearly.
The Argus II costs about £150,000, including treatment costs, although all the patients on the trial will be treated free of charge. Whilst this price would put it out the reach of most people, the eventual goal of bringing this technology to the masses is a truly amazing prospect.
In 2015 three Austrian patients who underwent the procedure to replace missing hands with bionic arms. After the operation they were able to pick up items. The procedure linked up nerves from the body with the prosthesis limbs so that simple operations could be controls by the brain.
By 2016 the touchbionics.com i-limb has now progressed the technology so that many more tasks are possible from opening a bag of crisps, tying shoe laces and typing. An amazing improvement in the range of uses and the control over the grip levels for many different situations.