Inventor of artificial hand sees 'bionic' replacement parts becoming more human

NEW BRUNSWICK/PISCATAWAY, N.J. Bionic limb replacements that look and work exactly like the real thing will likely remain a Hollywood fantasy, but fast advances in human-to-machine communication and miniaturization could bring the technology close within a decade.

That is the outlook of Rutgers biomedical engineer and inventor William Craelius, whose Dextra artificial hand is the first to let a person use existing nerve pathways to control individual computer-driven mechanical fingers. Craelius published an overview of bionics entitled "The Bionic Man - Restoring Mobility," in the international journal "Science," on Feb. 8.

Craelius believes "bionic technologies can be adapted for restoring some degree of almost any lost function," and that if progress continues at its present pace, "human-machine communication could soon lose its distinction as the No. 1 obstacle to bionics."

"Communication is key," Craelius said, "and it is getting easier."

As an example, he described a wireless implant the size of a grain of rice developed at UCLA by a team led by Dr. Gerald Loeb. This can be injected under the skin to provide independent communication between nerves and bionic devices. Craelius said while it may require more than 1,000 connections between the brain and bionic devices to communicate the data for a complex action like walking, it is probably achievable, even if most of the necessary computer processing is done outside the body.

Miniaturization of components will soon bring even that processing inside the body, Craelius said. "The number of transistors we can fit onto an integrated circuit doubles about every 18 months," he said. "At this pace, within the decade, the processing for complex bionic activity will be implantable in the brain or elsewhere in the body."

While scientists are eliminating obstacles to communication and miniaturization of bionics, they still need to devise ways to prot

Contact: Bill Haduch
Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey

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