The 6 Million Dollar Men

by

There’s a lot of great stuff out there on www.ted.com
And if you don’t already know:

 “TED is a nonprofit devoted to Ideas Worth Spreading. It started out (in 1984) as a conference bringing together people from three worlds: Technology, Entertainment, Design. Since then its scope has become ever broader.

 I came across this particular video though, from doctor and engineer Todd Kuiken:

http://www.ted.com/talks/todd_kuiken_a_prosthetic_arm_that_feels.html

It’s a great example of how technology and programming can help to make huge leaps in the medical industry.  Kuiken and a team of experts at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago are working less on new prosthetic arms and more on using existing prosthetics with better programming and a technology called targeted muscle re-innervation. Basically what they do is take the amputee’s remaining nerve endings that would go into their missing arm and fold them back over and attach them to muscles in the chest.  This then allows the wearer of the prosthetic to move and control their bionic arm just by thinking about moving the arm.  It works like their regular arm would; electrical signals from the brain go through the nerves and cause the muscle at the end of the nerves to contract.  In this case the muscles that contract are in the chest, which have electrodes attached to them, which then maneuver the arm, which allows for a much more natural and easy to control prosthetic with a much easier learning curve.  The unexpected result they discovered was that after using the nerves this way over time the user could eventually feel sensation in their missing hand when certain parts of their chest were touched.  Kuiken and his team were then able to take this discovery and add a sensor in the prosthetic, which would connect back up to these nerve endings allowing the user to actually feel the texture and temperature of what they were touching.  Aside from being completely fascinating it is a reminder that in all things, and especially with technology, a solid plan is the foundation for great discovery, but rigidness will never allow discovery to blossom.  Being agile and open in the planning and execution of any project allows for great innovation to take place.  It reminds me of Anthony Davis from Thought Ensemble’s recent blog found here:

http://www.anthonyjdavis.com/2012/01/pet-project-strategy.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+RandomThoughtsFromABattleWornEntrepreneur+%28Random+thoughts+from+a+battle+worn+entrepreneur%29

It’s about companies making space in their employees’ schedules to innovate freely.  They have their regular schedule and then innovation time set aside.  I think that because of technology’s hard and fast link to mathematics and preciseness that technology and creativity have often been viewed as mutually exclusive, where in reality they are so tightly intertwined it is hard to tell where one ends and the other begins.  Tech people are creative people, whether they want to admit it or not (some more than others) and they need room to let that creativity flourish.

And if you are interested here is another great video I found on TED about a bionic arm designed by Dean Kamen, inventor of the Segway (among many other things):
Turns out he has been working with Kuiken and the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago as mentioned in this article (also gives a better explanation of Kuiken’s project than I did):
I guess soon enough Steve Austin’s gonna get a run for his money.  All 6 million dollars worth…

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