Why you should listen
As Dean Kamen said at TED2007, the design of the prosthetic arm hadn't really been updated since the Civil War -- basically "a stick and a hook." But at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, physiatrist Todd Kuiken is building new arms and hands that are wired into the nervous system and can be controlled by the same impulses from the brain that once controlled flesh and blood.
Kuiken's training -- as both a physician and an engineer -- helps him see both sides of this complex problem. A technology called targeted muscle reinnervation uses nerves remaining after an amputation to control an artificial limb, linking brain impulses to a computer in the prosthesis that directs motors to move the limb. An unexpected effect in some patients: not only can they move their new limb, they can feel with it.
He said: "From an engineering standpoint, this is the greatest challenge one can imagine: trying to restore the most incredible machine in the universe."