Valerie Varnuska of Westbury, NY, has a noted enthusiasm for the advancement of machine technologies, appreciating both the power and sophistication available in modern devices. Valerie Varnuska particularly enjoys learning about robotics, which is being integrated into medical science to create working prostheses that replace missing limbs.
Prostheses have existed since the time of the ancient Egyptians, more than 3,000 years. Until recently, the devices – simple pegs for balancing or hooks for lifting – had no articulation or motor function. But by the beginning of the 20th century, prosthetic legs were nearly indistinguishable from original limbs when covered by clothing.
Today, mechanical hands are available with articulated, joined fingers capable of tasks as delicate as holding a pencil or typing on a keyboard. The primary obstacle to creating such precision is the challenge of creating prostheses that allow the human nervous system to interact with electronics.
One new development that has shown great promise is targeted muscular reinnervation, in which severed nerves are attached to small muscles. Electrodes read the contraction of these muscles, driving a mechanical prosthetic to perform the same action the nerve originally controlled.
The next step in the evolution of this process involves inserting electrodes into the brain itself to replace the nerve signal entirely. This has been successfully tested in a Duke University experiment in which monkeys with electrode implants learned to feed themselves with a thought-controlled robotic arm.