We talk with our hands, we greet with our hands, and we interact with the physical world with our hands. When they’re missing, it’s a barrier— Todd Kuiken
Physiatrist and engineer Todd Kuiken is building a prosthetic arm that connects with the human nervous system — improving motion, control and even feeling. Onstage, patient Amanda Kitts helps demonstrate this next-gen robotic arm. Talk recorded 14 July 2011.
A doctor and engineer, Todd Kuiken builds new prosthetics that connect with the human nervous system. Yes: bionics. As Dean Kamen said at TED2007, the design of the prosthetic arm hadn’t really been updated since the Civil War – basically “a stick and a hook.” But at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, physiatrist Todd Kuiken is building new arms and hands that are wired into the nervous system and can be controlled by the same impulses from the brain that once controlled flesh and blood.
Kuiken’s training – as both a physician and an engineer – helps him see both sides of this complex problem. A technology called targeted muscle reinnervation uses nerves remaining after an amputation to control an artificial limb, linking brain impulses to a computer in the prosthesis that directs motors to move the limb. An unexpected effect in some patients: not only can they move their new limb, they can feel with it.