According to DARPA it will be a fully functional (motor and sensory) upper limb that responds to direct neural control.
It's a huge undertaking, no doubt. And there are many novel things about this project that are worth a mention. In particular, however, the interdisciplinary nature of this quest and the number of individuals who are working to make it happen is not only jaw-dropping, but a serious example of mechatronics!
The immediate goal of RP 2009 is to provide the most advanced medical and rehabilitative technologies for military personnel injured in the line of duty. During phase I, which went from 2005 to 2007, a couple prototypes were developed with funding by DARPA. Using knowledge gained from those two prototypes is the jumping off point for phase II. In fact, the speed and accruacy demonstrated in phase I, was a large reason phase II got additional funding.
Last August, the team unveiled two different Prototype II designs at a DARPA technical conference. Each featured 25 degrees of freedom and exhibited strength and movement speed nearly rivaling that of the human arm.
Moving forward, the team will use the intrinsic hand, where most actuation components reside in the hand and the wrist.
JHU-APL's Stuart Harshbarger, who leads the program, told the 100 plus people in attendence that he wasn't sure when the last time, if ever, such a large, broad group of people had met to do something this innovative-- and large.
More than 100 engineers are working on this one limb. And this multinational team includes individuals from Europe and Canada and partners from all across the US. There are hardware and software engineers--systems engineers, bioengineers, medical doctors, neuroscientist, prosthetists, nuero surgeons, researchers, chemists, regulators, clinical experts, and commercial manufacturers. DARPA's COL Geoffrey Ling, M.D., Ph.D who was in attendence for one day of the meeting sits at the helm of the project.
The whole idea of a bionic arm, wrist and hand sounds so futuristic, but when you boil down the science, it shows just how far we've come and just how interdisciplinary engineering needs to be to move the science and technology field forward.
For example, RP 2009, wouldn't be possible without mechanical, electrical, or software engineering, but it also doesn't work without neural science and bioengineering. A key component to making this limb work is using a procedure called Targeted Muscle Reinnervation (TMR) developed by Dr. Todd Kuiken of the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago (RIC). Essentially a nerve transfer surgery, TMR is when a surgeon reroutes nerves from the arm stump of the amputee to the chest area. When the amputee contracts these chest muscles, surface electrodes sense this activity and convert it to a control signal for the prosthesis.
Divided into interdisciplinary teams, all team members will work together from across the globe in a collaborative effort. There will be no silos for any of these engineers. Cross-functional knowledge will be at an all time high and every part of the bionic arm will be built with the help of other teams.
Like any good mechatronic product development, all teams have project managers and were encouraged to communicate with other teams regularly.
Also stressed to team members was use of the virtual integration environment. In short, the virtual integration environment, based on MATLAB, Simulink and proprietary software, allows APL to synchronize the work of its partners around the world. In a way, it's a PLM tool of their own making, for optimal collaboration. It will be the central platform for collaboration and testing of various approaches. It will also help with clinical trials and feedback from patients.
The team has just 24 months to build this bionic arm. If the meeting is any indication as to how these folks work--day one of the kick-off meeting went from 8 a.m. until 11 p.m., (and most discussions went well past midnight)--they might just make the most, bionic, mechatronic arm to date!
I'll keep you posted for the next 24 months!
In the meantime check out my colleague Larry Maloney's article about Revolutionizing Prosthetics, Phase I : Engineers Pitch Medical Marvels with Motion Systems.
From Michelle Hopey's Medical Mechatronics blog, hosted on Design News.
If these students are any indication, the future of mechatronics is bright.
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Posted in: Mechatronics on Campus | 11.27.2008.