The Future of Prosthetics: Metal Gear Inspired Arms




James Young and Metal Gear Solid

James Young lost his arm and his foot in a tragic train accident in 2012, and he has been adjusting to life with prosthetic limbs ever since. He has received a truly groundbreaking prosthetic from a London designer, that has made his limb look like Snake’s from the video game Metal Gear Solid.  Konami, a Japanese video game developer, teamed up with the innovative designer, Sophie De Oliviera Barata to create the limb.

A whole team of engineers, roboticists and designers produced this piece of technology for the 25 year old. As with most prosthetics, the build is customised to Young’s requirements, and also uses cutting edge and innovative technologies

Young was “carefully selected by Sophie as a candidate comfortable with the idea of an eye-catching alternative limb and who would benefit from the capabilities it offered,” say Konami.

In Metal Gear Solid V, Snake gains an artificial arm after losing it in prelude Ground Zeroes. Although Young’s arm won’t be an exact replica, it will be inspired by the aesthetic of the virtual one, without the many weapons and espionage tools outfitted to it in the game though.



The Special Features

The arm includes a smartwatch in the wrist. The fingers are controllable, and it also doubles as a phone charger thanks to a USB port. A panel on the outside of the shoulder houses a drone that can actually fly around. The arm is detachable and can light up in various colors, and is controlled by James via commands sent by his shoulder muscles to sensors.  However, this is a work in progress.  

To achieve his goal of having two fully independent arms once again, James is currently seeking funding for a procedure called osseointegration, which will basically involve attaching the prosthetic directly to his bone using titanium. If you’d like to help out, you can donate to James’ cause on his GoFundMe page.

“The Phantom Limb Project was born out of a desire to create something innovative, on the cusp of future technology, which would explore the themes present within the series and more specifically, the themes and ideas referenced in the latest incarnation: Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain,” the creators said.

“We also wanted to tell an uplifting human story of what it means to be an amputee, to feel phantom pain, to overcome loss and how technology can change our perceptions of ‘disability’. Moreover, the story of how one gamer [...] never let his condition get in the way of his passion.”

De Oliveira Barata designs unique prosthetic limbs. As founder of The Alternative Limbs Project, she has pioneered a field for individualized limbs built to match the tastes and personalities of their wearers.



A Brief History of Prosthesis

As the amputee coalition eloquently put, “from the ancient pyramids to World War I, the prosthetic field has morphed into a sophisticated example of man’s determination to do better.”

The evolution of prosthesis is a long history, from its primitive beginnings to its sophisticated present, to the exciting visions of the future. As in the development of any other field, some ideas and inventions have worked and been expanded upon, such as the fixed-position foot, while others have fallen by the wayside or become obsolete, such as the use of iron in a prosthesis.

The Egyptians were the early pioneers of prosthetic technology. Scientists recently discovered what is said to be the world’s first prosthetic toe from an Egyptian mummy and it appears to have been functional.

The Dark Ages saw little advancement in prosthetics other than the hand hook and peg leg. Most prostheses of the time were made to hide deformities or injuries sustained in battle. A knight would be fitted with a prosthesis that was designed only to hold a shield or for a leg to appear in the stirrups, with little attention to functionality. Outside of battle, only the wealthy were lucky enough to be fitted with a peg leg or hand hook for daily function.

In 1508, German mercenary Gotz von Berlichingen had a pair of technologically advanced iron hands made after he lost his right arm in the Battle of Landshut. The hands could be manipulated by setting them with the natural hand and moved by relaxing a series of releases and springs while being suspended with leather straps.


French Army barber/surgeon Ambroise Paré is considered by many to be the father of modern amputation surgery and prosthetic design. He introduced modern amputation procedures (1529) to the medical community and made prostheses (1536) for upper- and lower-extremity amputees. He also invented an above-knee device that was a kneeling peg leg and foot prosthesis that had a fixed position, adjustable harness, knee lock control and other engineering features that are used in today’s devices.

His work showed the first true understanding of how a prosthesis should function. A colleague of Paré’s, Lorrain, a French locksmith, offered one of the most important contributions to the field when he used leather, paper and glue in place of heavy iron in making a prosthesis.


Looking To The Future

Today’s devices are much lighter, made of plastic, aluminum and composite materials to provide amputees with the most functional devices. In addition to lighter, patient-molded devices, the advent of microprocessors, computer chips and robotics in today’s devices are designed to return amputees to the lifestyle they were accustomed to, rather than to simply provide basic functionality or a more pleasing appearance.

Innovators such as Sophie De Oliviera Barata are taking the functionality of a prosthetic limb, and adding the personal style that reflects the wearer.  As this field steps into the future, perhaps limbs like the one James Young wears will become a reality for more and more people who are faced with this challenge of replacing a limb.


Some media may contain mature content. Discretion is advised when viewing with students.

Bodyhack | Metal Gear Man - PART 1

Bodyhack | Metal Gear Man - PART 2

Amputee gamer shows off 'Iron Man arm'
Lesson Plan

Lesson Objective:  Students will learn about the advances in prosthesis, as well as a brief history of the field. They will gain an insight into how muscles and your brain work together to move parts of you body. They will learn about the challenges in creating a comfortable prosthetic.

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Lesson tags: Eighth, Featured, Ninth, Pop Culture, Science, Seventh, STEM, Video Games

Melissa Pelletier

Melissa has a Masters in Educational Communication and Technology from NYU. She has worked in academic publishing, games, and the educational toys industries.