Technology restoring humanity

Revolutionizing Prosthetics with Atom Limbs

Photo by ThisisEngineering RAEng on Unsplash

This article explores the core idea of what it means to be human, and how those who have lost their limbs are being deprived of the feeling of being human that they once had, and lastly the revolutionary work of Atom Limbs to try to solve this problem in restoring the function of limbs through prosthetics and technology.

What does it mean to be Human?

Photo by Maria Teneva on Unsplash

What does it mean to be human, what makes us different from all other species of animal on this planet? At the core of it all, it can be argued that it is our ability to think the way we do but if we explore the idea that thinking is what sets us apart we arrive at quite a meaningless point.

“A man who thinks all the time has nothing to think about except thoughts” — Alan Watts

Thinking for the sake of thinking is somewhat of a useless endeavor, for a man can dream up heaven but continue to live in hell. In Startups, we continuously have the message that the idea does not really matter be constantly reinforced into our brains. Why is that? Everyone in the world has the capacity within in them to come up with at least one good idea in their lifetime but what separates the movers and shapers we talk about in history from the common men is they acted not just a mere attempt but executed to a degree better then most hence they succeeded. The ability to execute unique thought into really what sets us apart from all other species, it is the combination of creativity and execution that resulted in all the marvels that exist around us. Mastery over our own sovereignty(our limbs) is what allows us to feel human ever so often.

So, what it means to be a human simply put is the ability to be expressive: to cry when we are sad, to laugh when we happy, to paint when artistically inspired, to high five when proud, to wave as a universal sign of greeting and the ability above all to use our limbs to do what makes us feel human. It would be said that to rid a man of part of his humanity take away that which makes him feel human — his limbs.

The value of our limbs throughout history

Photo by British Library on Unsplash

Throughout history, the most important asset that we had as humans has been the collaboration between our brain and limbs. It allowed us to gather and hunt for food in the most efficient way possible. As history continued to progress the need for our limbs has not stopped, we still needed them to write on rock walls and create our settlements. In fact, our limbs were essentially our mode of communication during the early stages of the homo sapiens with language being truly developed soon thereafter. Throughout centuries and even millennium, our limb function has remained an integral and essential part of what it means to be a fully functioning human. In our modern-day, the world is being increasingly digital and the use of our limbs for the most part are not as important economically as they once were, as speech to text software and other technologies created to aid those without limbs become more prevalent and sophisticated but the problem here is not that limbs are necessary for economic viability (which they aren’t) but rather if not having limbs deprives us of some sort of human given right at the core of it, the right to feel human in conjunction with being human. All living things humans included engage in 7 level processes that ensure that we are alive:

  • Movement
  • Respiration
  • Sensitivity
  • Growth
  • Reproduction
  • Excretion
  • Nutrition

As humans, we tend to take for granted that which has been constant in our lives for a while for example we often or never think of how important our limbs are to us, our identity, our dignity, and abilities, precisely because we have never had to think whether we will lose them and with good reason. Looking at the 7 things that differentiate living organisms from non-living organisms, it is important to note that limbs are integral to 5 over those things. The ability to move independently of others at our own will is an extension of being alive that can be described as our ability to be expressive. The ability to be sensitive, touch, and feel something on your skin is a sign of life but by extension, the ability to be able to hold, nurture and feel something like a child for example. The sense is a feeling that shows the humanity we all have within us and our capacity to love and also to be hurt. To see growth is quite a marvelous feeling when you look back to the markings you used to put on your door frame or the measurements you used to write down somewhere, it's quite mind-blowing to conceive of the idea that we once were little people who could not even hold a pen properly ( some of us of the keyboard proclivity still can't) to now where we are grown. Our limbs all though it may not be consciously apparent are a subconscious reminder of how far we have come in life, it’s the little things often completely overlooked that make all the difference in the world. When it comes to excretion and Nutrition ( namely our ability to eat) there is a certain dignity we get from being able to be independent of others to sustain our own lives and limbs are the enabler of our own personal dignity on some level.

The problem with current prosthetics

source: Amputee Coalition

The concerning statistic about the chart above is people who clearly need prosthetics but choose not to get them because they do not do a good a job for them or entail more hassle than benefit. The problem with traditional prosthetics is that they are manual, the person must first position them for the task they are about to do for example they would manually have to position each finger of the prosthetic arm to just grip something. This is incredibly inefficient and quite frankly problematic which is a sad reminder of the struggle they face and the differences they have from other people

A Brief History of Atom Labs and DARPA in the industry of prosthetics

In 2004 Darpa started funding a program called Revolutionising Prosthetics, the goal was to restore natural limb function for amputees returning from war. John Hopkins took this money which was nearly $120 million in total. John Hopkins went through multiple prototypes and iterations until they were able to create a prosthetic arm that can have its individual fingers controlled by the user. You wear a band on your arm which then senses neural activity from your muscles and converts it into hand movements. It is essentially controlled by your mind like your normal hand and is capable of sensing touch and send the signal through your muscles to your brain to feel the same feeling you would get with a normal hand, it literally gives the feeling of being human back to people who had lost it and addresses all the problems that limit traditional prosthetics. Sadly Darpa stopped funding this in 2018 and the technology was in danger of being left in the lab until the founder of Atom limbs approached the university to start a company around the technology.

What this technology truly means for the present and future

Photo by Robynne Hu on Unsplash

Prosthetic technology like that of atom labs is quite revolutionary because the application is limitless the exciting future is whether it would one day be able to aid people who were born without limbs to not have that be a problem anymore. It is an exciting future in which our limbs could potentially become replaceable body parts if the need ever arises and have no difference in limb function after a replacement.




At the cross section of previously unconnected ideas exists true creativity.

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Ashley N

Ashley N

At the cross section of previously unconnected ideas exists true creativity.

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