4 DARPA Bionic Projects That Help Humanity - InformationWeek

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4/8/2015
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4 DARPA Bionic Projects That Help Humanity

DARPA-funded achievements in prosthetics and "cyborg" implants stand to improve the lives of countless disabled people - and, possibly, open up a whole new world of bionic super-abilities.
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Leveraging the Brain's Electronic Functions

Jan Scheuermann is a quadriplegic, having lost the use of her limbs in the late 1990s as a result of spinocerebellar degeneration. In 2012, DARPA-funded researchers from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, and the VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System implanted two quarter-inch electrode grids into Scheuermann's brain. Within a week, Scheuermann was able to reach with an electronic arm. Within three months, she was able to flex the electronic arm's wrists and conduct more complex movements with it - such as high-fiving researchers and feeding herself chocolate.

'We're hoping this can become a fully implanted, wireless system that people can actually use in their homes without our supervision,' said lead investigator Jennifer Collinger in December 2012. 'It might even be possible to combine brain control with a device that directly stimulates muscles to restore movement of the individual's own limb.'

Indeed, the researchers have been able to improve upon the fluidity of the device's movements. Just a few months ago, Scheuermann was able to use the arm to beat her brother in a game of rock-paper-scissors.

Scheuermann continues to volunteer for other DARPA robotics programs.

(Image: Allan Ajifo via Flickr)

Leveraging the Brain's Electronic Functions

Jan Scheuermann is a quadriplegic, having lost the use of her limbs in the late 1990s as a result of spinocerebellar degeneration. In 2012, DARPA-funded researchers from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, and the VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System implanted two quarter-inch electrode grids into Scheuermann's brain. Within a week, Scheuermann was able to reach with an electronic arm. Within three months, she was able to flex the electronic arm's wrists and conduct more complex movements with it – such as high-fiving researchers and feeding herself chocolate.

"We're hoping this can become a fully implanted, wireless system that people can actually use in their homes without our supervision," said lead investigator Jennifer Collinger in December 2012. "It might even be possible to combine brain control with a device that directly stimulates muscles to restore movement of the individual’s own limb."

Indeed, the researchers have been able to improve upon the fluidity of the device's movements. Just a few months ago, Scheuermann was able to use the arm to beat her brother in a game of rock-paper-scissors.

Scheuermann continues to volunteer for other DARPA robotics programs.

(Image: Allan Ajifo via Flickr)

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soozyg
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soozyg,
User Rank: Ninja
4/8/2015 | 1:54:07 PM
replacing limbs
60 Minutes has run stories about the replacement limbs and how advanced they are. One episode talked about the fact that the replacements are so good and helpful that they put one-legged runners at an advantage over two-legged, normal runners. Very interesting.
soozyg
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soozyg,
User Rank: Ninja
4/8/2015 | 1:57:48 PM
harnassing the brain
Not too long ago, scientists were saying that human beings only use about 10 percent of their brain and it's still a largely unknown organ. Now we have brain mapping. Are we still at that 10% usage? 
zerox203
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zerox203,
User Rank: Ninja
4/8/2015 | 10:22:12 PM
Re: 4 DARPA Bionic Projects That Help Humanity
This is a good pairing, because I think your average person has misconceptions about both of these topics (that is, DARPA and bionics). There have been infinity movies portraying DARPA as an organisation that lies, cheats, and manipulates it's contractors and scientists to get what it wants, and then nefariously applies even the most innocuous-seeming technology to a combat-centric purpose.  It's nice to hear something sunnier for a change. I don't pretend to know what goes on behind closed doors, but it's obvious that the near-future intent of these projects is not the bionic soldier - rather, it's to help returning vets that have been wounded in service of their country.  This makes the user-friendly nature of the prosthetics that much more important.

As for bionics, I think people are inclined to the same prejudices they have against robots. They think the machine can gain sentience and behave outisde it's programming - again, because of too many bad movies. It just doesn't work that way. In this case, the machine works via rigorous mapping to the muscle (etc.) controls we already have in our body. It's a combination of existing technologies working together. Even knowing that, the extent and variety of the tasks accomplished was amazing to me - one linked video showing a 3D simulation not unlike an Oculus Rift was particularly impressive. Now, about Mark Wahlberg being The 6 B/Million Dollar Man? I've never watched a single episode of the original in my life, but somehow I'm still certain he's the wrong man for the job. Maybe if we replace him with a better, stronger, bionic Mark Wahlberg.
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