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The Future of Prosthetics: Metal Gear Inspired Arms

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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3D Printing! When Do We Start Printing Body Parts?

Some people think 3D printing is taking away jobs by automating the manufacturing industry. Others think it’s a revolution in engineering. In this lesson, we’ll look at some of the reasons for the hype surrounding 3D printing, focusing on health and wellness.

Surprisingly, 3D printers have been in development since the 1980s. Charles Hull was the first person to patent the technology in 1986. Throughout the late 80s and the 90s, many companies focused on building 3D printers to be used for industrial design, to create prototypes. Because these printers were very expensive, only large corporations could afford to use them. In the mid-2000s there was a divide in the 3D printer industry. Though there were still innovations being made for the high-priced printers, there was a movement towards making 3D printers more affordable for the home or office. In 2009, the first commercial 3D printers were created by RepRap and MakerBot. By 2012, there were many 3D printer prototypes being funded on Kickstarter. Today a 3D printer can be purchased for around $1,000, but you don’t even need to own a printer to create a 3D object. You can send a file to a company like Shapeways or 3DHub to have it printed and shipped to you at a relatively low cost.

3D printing is an industry that’s developing extremely rapidly. The way 3D printers work is similar to a standard inkjet printer, but instead of ink, they use a different material and apply it in layers. Usually a photopolymer resin is used, which can be melted and resolidified with ultraviolet light. The photopolymer is spread out and is built into a 3D object by printing many layers on top of each other. This process is called additive manufacturing, because it involves building layers of material (as opposed to subtractive manufacturing, which is like sculpting – cutting away pieces of material). It’s a simple way to make a solid plastic object without much heat in a precise manner.

This lesson will look at some of the things that are currently being made with 3D printers. Students can make their own informed decision on 3D printing’s positive and negative impacts. They can also design their own 3D printed innovations and envision what the future holds for 3D printing.

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Scientists May Have Discovered an Alien Megastructure…No Seriously.

Scientists believe they may have spotted an Alien Megastructure orbiting a sun in a distant solar system. Not even kidding. There is a massive object orbiting a distant star and a planet or asteroid have already been ruled out as possible explanations. Relax, no one looked into a telescope and spotted the Death Star, but from the sounds of it, this object may be just as massive. Read on as Melissa, our science guru, breaks down the facts.

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Warning: It’s about to get real sciencey up in here. Yeah, Aliens are cool, but you’re going to have to learn a bit about the science we use to find them.

What is Kepler?

The Kepler Space Observatory is a spacecraft launched by NASA in 2009. It provides an opportunity to explore the galaxy for habitable planets.  It does this by observing a fixed location and watching the stars’ brightness.  In time, planets will sometimes orbit those stars, causing a slight dip in the brightness of the observable light.  That dip can be calculated to a certain percentage, and then, based on the size of the star, the size of the planet can be determined.  This is known as transit photometry.

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Alien Megastructures, you say?

Recently, a very large dip was discovered on a star named KIC 8462852.  This star is 1500 light years away from earth. Whereas a planet will cause a dip in the light by a percentage or two, this star had a dip of about twenty percent. Twenty percent of the light emitted from this star was blocked by something incredibly large. It would have to be about half the size of the star itself to block twenty percent of the light output. Comparatively, Jupiter, the largest planet in our solar system, is only one tenth the diameter of our sun. This star is estimated to be 1.5 times larger than the size of our sun, making it nearly impossible for the object to be a planet. Many theories have been explored and there are some very likely natural causes for the dip, yet this mystery has lead some experts to consider this to be the result of a giant alien megastructure, periodically dimming the light with its orbit.

Jason Wright, an astronomer from Penn State University, has been investigating what a huge alien construction in space might look like from Earth. He told The Atlantic: “Aliens should always be the very last hypothesis you consider, but this looked like something you would expect an alien civilization to build.”

Where is the Infrared?

Tabetha Boyajian, Yale University, led the investigations into the mysterious signals and found that the most likely natural cause was the break-up of a comet around the star. As the icy remains expand into giant clouds they could temporarily block out the light, causing the observed signal. But this should cause dust to scatter around the star, producing an excess of infrared radiation that should be easily detected from Earth. As yet, no such signal has been found. One of the main arguments against this alien megastructure theory, is that something as large as this object would be absorbing a lot of heat from the star.  That heat energy would then be re-radiated and observed as Infra-Red wavelengths, and as of now no IR light has been observed from this star.  This lack of Infrared is making it difficult to find the most likely explanation for the dimming event.

Transit Photometry

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Despite the disadvantages of this type of method for discovering exoplanets, the main advantage of the transit method is that the size of the planet can be determined from the lightcurve. When combined with the radial-velocity method (which determines the planet’s mass) one can determine the density of the planet, and learn something about the planet’s physical structure. The transit method also makes it possible to study the atmosphere of the transiting planet. When the planet transits the star, light from the star passes through the upper atmosphere of the planet. By studying the high-resolution stellar spectrum carefully, one can detect elements present in the planet’s atmosphere.

The Plot Thickens

Since the original news hit about the strange observations made about the star KIC 8462852, from the Kepler Space Observatory, astronomers have been busy looking over data and have uncovered some new information.  Bradley Schaefer, an astronomer at Louisiana State University, wanted to investigate this particular star’s dimming pattern further. He went to Harvard to look at old photographic plates of stars. There were more than 1200 photographs of KIC 8462852 to view as part of a survey collected between the years 1890 and 1989. What he found made the mysterious star even more puzzling. He confirmed that the star is flickering on short timescales, similar to the findings of the Kepler Space Observatory, but the Harvard collection also revealed that its been doing this over the course of a century.

What does this mean for the initial hypothesis?  Could the break-up of comets, orbiting around the star be the answer? Schaefer calculated that it would take 648,000 stars, each 200 km wide to have passed by the star, which he was was “completely implausible.” (New Scientist)

The results also changed the requirements for the alien megastructure hypothesis. Schaefer is unconvinced that an Alien civilization would be able to build something capable of covering a fifth of a star that massive in just a century. He also reiterated the lack of infrared signal that would be required for such a structure.  

Schafer added in his report that a century-long dimming like the one from the star, is completely unprecedented for any star of its size. He adds, the “century-long dimming and the day-long dips are both just extreme ends of a spectrum of timescales for unique dimming events, so by Ockham’s Razor, all this is produced by one physical mechanism.  This mechanism…must be some ongoing process with continuous effects.”  (Cornell)

Ockham’s Razor is a problem solving principle with philosophical origins.  It basically states that the simplest explanation for something is usually the right one.  Well, nothing stands out as the obvious reason for this phenomenon yet, other than the confirmation that it’s the same thing that’s caused it for over a century.  Pretty awesome even if it’s still a mystery.