Reengineering the Prosthetic-Arm Socket

To create the next generation of prosthetic arms, Dean Kamen had to reinvent the prosthetic socket

4 min read

15 February 2008�The prosthetic arm hasn't changed much since the second World War. It's basically a cable and a hook that opens and closes when you shrug. With only 6000 people needing new prosthetic arms in a given year in the United States, the market has not been big enough or lucrative enough to warrant expensive improvements. But Segway inventor Dean Kamen took on the task of creating a better device at the behest of the U.S. Department of Defense. His team of engineers at Deka Research & Development Corp., in Manchester, N.H., have developed a state-of-the-art functional prosthetic arm with usable fingers and sensory feedback. They were able to do so largely because of advanced low-power electronics and better batteries. But one part of the problem had little to do with motors or processing and everything to do with changing a key part of current prosthetic design: the way the prosthetic is joined to the body. Commonly known as the socket, that interface is the No. 1 complaint of arm amputees.

The goal of the Defense Department project, started in 2005, was to create an intuitively usable cutting-edge arm. But Kamen soon realized that an improved arm would be useless if it didn't feel as naturally connected to the body as a real arm. ”The problem wasn't entirely the arm,” Kamen says. ”It was how the arm attaches to the person. We spoke to a lot of people with sockets and we found 80 percent of the current kinds sit in people's closets.”

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Are You Ready for Workplace Brain Scanning?

Extracting and using brain data will make workers happier and more productive, backers say

11 min read
A photo collage showing a man wearing a eeg headset while looking at a computer screen.
Nadia Radic

Get ready: Neurotechnology is coming to the workplace. Neural sensors are now reliable and affordable enough to support commercial pilot projects that extract productivity-enhancing data from workers’ brains. These projects aren’t confined to specialized workplaces; they’re also happening in offices, factories, farms, and airports. The companies and people behind these neurotech devices are certain that they will improve our lives. But there are serious questions about whether work should be organized around certain functions of the brain, rather than the person as a whole.

To be clear, the kind of neurotech that’s currently available is nowhere close to reading minds. Sensors detect electrical activity across different areas of the brain, and the patterns in that activity can be broadly correlated with different feelings or physiological responses, such as stress, focus, or a reaction to external stimuli. These data can be exploited to make workers more efficient—and, proponents of the technology say, to make them happier. Two of the most interesting innovators in this field are the Israel-based startup InnerEye, which aims to give workers superhuman abilities, and Emotiv, a Silicon Valley neurotech company that’s bringing a brain-tracking wearable to office workers, including those working remotely.

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