Because of the technologically advanced capabilities of the Modular Prosthetic Limb (MPL), the many uses of the device as a prosthetic, human assistive device, and general robotic device have only begun to be realized.
"Not since the NASA Apollo mission has the opportunity for commercial spinoffs from government programs been this promising. If the boost that the motor prosthetics industry receives from this program is anywhere near what we expect, we can all thank the service people who risked their lives and limbs for our well being."
Over the course of more than 6 years, numerous development cycles, trade studies, analyses, testing, and technology investigations have culminated in an anthropomorphic prosthetic device with human-like capabilities. DARPA envisioned an advanced limb that would allow a user to button a shirt, tune a radio, feel the warmth of a loved one's hand, and provide the warfighter with the opportunity to return to active duty.
The Revolutionizing Prosthetics program has produced significant advances in neural devices and algorithms. The implants themselves have many applications beyond motor control and sensory feedback for prosthetics. The technology creates opportunities to address a myriad of musculoskeletal and nervous system disorders—reading signals, bridging gaps, and creating responses. These devices also have potential application in able-bodied individuals, for example, neurally stimulating a "sixth sense."
In September 2011, a quadriplegic research subject operated the mechanical prosthetic arm in testing sessions at a University of Pittsburgh Medical Center research facility. Controlling the MPL with his thoughts, the research subject was able to grasp a ball, high-five researchers, and rub palms with his girlfriend.
The Virtual Integration Environment (VIE) established a unique framework that can grow beyond prosthetics applications to include brain/cognitive modeling, full bipedal torso modeling, functional electrical stimulation, and many others. (See Collaborative Efforts for application of the VIE to reducing phantom limb pain.)
Given the program's foundation in high-dexterity limb systems, sensory feedback, and intimately integrated human interfaces, engineers recognized that one could project human capabilities and performance into extreme or hazardous environments while keeping the operator at a safe stand-off range. Researchers demonstrated these capabilities by mounting two highly dexterous limb systems onto small mobile robotics platforms. The objective was to demonstrate bimanual operation of high-dexterity limb systems, stereoscope vision for an immersive experience, and advanced touch technology for sensory feedback. Successful system demonstrations led to APL's current role on the Advanced Explosive Ordnance Disposal Robotic System program for the U.S. Naval Explosive Ordnance Disposal Technology Division, which is responsible for the Joint Force Explosive Ordnance Disposal requirements.
APL also leads the development team in introducing a common architecture to be used across the family of explosive ordnance disposal robotics platforms. This approach will dramatically improve performance, keep our warfighters safer, and improve our forensics collection abilities.
The applications for these technologies are impressive. In the military domain, the team is exploring Combat Casualty Care robotics—using robots for initial triage and first aid during combat operations. For Homeland Defense, these systems can be used in hazardous environments—for example, for initial assessment and decontamination after a chemical, biological, or radiological event. These technologies can also support long-duration spaceflight or planetary exploration.
Other DARPA Programs
Other complementary DARPA programs have influenced or will benefit from the research and development work—MPL, neural science and devices, and Virtual Integration Environment—that occurred as part of the Revolutionizing Prosthetics program.
Autonomous Robotic Manipulation (ARM)
Also see http://thearmrobot.com/
Histology for Interface Stability over Time (HIST)
Human Assisted Neural Devices (HAND)
Reliable Central-Nervous-System Interfaces (RCI)
Reliable Neural Interface Technology (RE-NET)
Additional information is provided through the RE-NET Workshop
Reliable Peripheral Interfaces (RPI)
Reorganization and Plasticity to Accelerate Injury Recovery (REPAIR)