The emergence of inventive new materials, engineering breakthroughs, and advances in microtechnology has served as the catalyst for innovation in modern prosthetics development. As a result of these advances, modern prostheses are more lightweight, more responsive, and more comfortable than models developed even just a few years ago. Wearers of prostheses have more options than ever before, allowing amputees to participate in life activities never before thought possible.
A number of new technologies are just beginning to become a reality for prosthetic wearers. Neuroelectronics is one of the industry’s newest fields. Scientists studying cognitive control signals report that “eavesdropping” on neurons in the brain allow them to predict how the body will respond. The signals can be directed to a prosthetic brain, or electrical processing center, which interprets the signals and moves the prosthetic limb. For example, consider the individual who goes to reach for a book. As he decides to reach, he sends an invisible electrical signal to the brain that tells the body it needs to prepare to move. The brain receives the signal and decodes it, sending a signal to the right arm to extend and move towards the book. Scientists propose using these same mechanics to develop smart prosthetic devices. This entails tapping into neural signal pathways and using them to direct prosthetic limbs just as the brain directs natural limbs.
Sensor sockets are another new innovation in the field of prosthetic development. Sensor sockets are monitoring devices designed to serve as an interface between the limb and the prosthesis. The socket is comprised of a net of sensors that can detect information from the limb and transmit it directly to a medical facility for evaluation. The hope is that the information received from the socket sensor will allow rehabilitation doctors to evaluate the individual’s condition and the performance of the limb. With time, doctors hope that the use of sensor sockets will be used as a means to maximize the effectiveness and comfort of the limb. The sensors could potentially allow for real-time adjustments in the performance of the prosthetic, thereby improving a patient’s quality of life and enhancing patient treatment.
In addition to these two exciting new emerging technologies, progress continues to be made in the comfort and construction of current prosthetic devices. Incremental improvements in the flexibility, cushioning, and rotational ability of modern artificial limbs increase a prosthetic’s comfort and functionality, allowing prosthetic wearers to come closer to feeling like they are wearing a natural limb. And as the quality of prosthetics increases, prosthetic wearers are more able to resume activities previously made difficult by their lack of a natural limb.