An Artificial Leg That "Feels"
Let's take a look at Austria this week, where amazing advances in prosthesis technology are currently underway. The country's Linz University has recently succeeded at creating the world's first ever “feeling” artificial leg, capable of replicating a number of sensations felt in a normal human leg. The leg, which transmits feelings to its wearer, was showcased in a Viennese press conference, fitted to leg amputee Wolfgang Rangger, who reports the prosthesis to be a “second lease of life”.
“It feels like I have a foot again,” Rangger relays. The former teacher has been an amputee for eight years after a blood clot claimed his right leg. “I no longer slip on ice and I can tell whether I walk on gravel, concrete, glass or sand. I can even feel small stones,” he said.
How it works
In a normal foot, the skin receptors are responsible for relaying movement to the brain but are obviously not present in the case of an amputee. In many cases, however, the amputee's nerve endings – which act as information conductors – are still present and viable, just not in use.
In order to allow the impulses from the prosthesis stimulators to be felt, nerve endings in the amputated limp are surgically redirected near the surface. A shaft containing stimulating components then houses the prepared stump, essentially connecting it to six sensors found in the foot of the artificial limb. This allows the person wearing the leg to feel its movements and how it interacts with the surface it walks on.
Linz University's Professor Hubert Egger, who developed the procedure, is also making headway in the field of mind-controlled prosthesis. The professor reported that the successful creation of the “feeling” artificial leg was made possible by reversing the principals of mind-controlled prosthesis; instead of information being sent to the limb via the nerves, the limb transmits information the to brain.
A step towards ending phantom pain.
Often, amputees report feelings of pain, itching and other discomforts felt in their missing limbs. These phantom sensations are caused by the brain's attempt to retrieve data from an arm or leg that is no longer there. The artificial leg created by Professor Egger and his team is reported to diminish the phantom pain that many amputees experience. In the years since Mr. Rangger lost his leg, he has experienced intense pains for which he used morphine to relieve. Since using the artificial leg, he now claims the pain to be reduced to minimal discomfort. This is because the brain now receives actual data from the leg instead of searching for information and not getting any feedback.
Presently, the costs of constructing the artificial leg can range from $12 000 to $30 000, though Egger is confident that companies will soon take to producing the high-tech prosthesis, and that this would see a reduction in manufacturing costs.
About Mvusi Ngubane
I am: A shoddy idealist or a fantasist in denial. A writer & creator of content. A storyteller, a story-seeker and, occasionally, a conveyor of obscure perspectives. http://pyrosel.blogspot.com