Does Function Have to Follow Form in Prosthetics?
With organic, natural arms, an arm looks like, well, an arm. With prosthetic arms, the goal has always been to restore what was lost, to recreate synthetically that which nature provided. We are not there yet, but marching ever closer. With targeted muscle re-enervation connecting prosthetic arms to the peripheral nervous system, and ever increasing degrees of freedom in the kinaesthetic joints of said prosthetics, it may be time to explore moving form beyond pure function and personifying prosthetic arms to suit individual style.
Enter industrial design student Hans Alexander Huseklepp. Huseklepp came up with the idea of an extendible prosthetic arm with a style all of its own. It bears little more than a passing resemblance to a natural arm, but is still fully functional as one - and then some.
The initial work, project name 'Immaculate', takes the necessity of keeping prosthetics lightweight, to the next level. It uses advanced materials to not just shed further weight, but redefine the form. Shaping the arm to be sleek and stylish, whilst opening up a weight defecit that allows additional optional devices to be plugged in.
Typically, prosthetics are kept at about 60% of the weight of the original arm, because unlike the original, they are not supported by the skeletal system, but only the soft flesh. Immaculate dives significantly below that 60% mark.
In addition, rather than trying to replicate the way a natural arm functions, every joint of Immaculate is a ball joint, with total freedom of movement. Initially of course, an Immaculate connected to a human brain is not going to be able to function to that potential. However if the human trains their brain to command it, immaculate can do things like rotate round 360 degrees at the elbow, and keep that up all night. Double jointed and then some, essentially. The mind would have to learn how to command it, but the capability is in the hardware.
Huseklepp is attempting to take the same approach with prosthetics as the i-wear community did with display systems and glasses. Essentially, intelligent wearable, becomes intelligent integrated.
A contoured control panel exists on the forearm of the prosthetic, designed to be easily and comfortably accessible to the other hand. On it a series of programmable buttons await being wired in to whatever optional extras - such as integrated ipods - the person the prosthetic is attached to, desires to add.
The arm terminates in three 'fingers' in a middle finger, index finger, and thumb arrangement. This is perhaps not ideal, and has been styled to design, rather than full practicality. However, as is the goal with Immaculate, ultimately, the specifications of the arm, and the hand, are the wearer's to decree.
Cost is of course a major concern. With standardised prosthetics still costing well, figuratively an arm and a leg, and with mass produced, interchangeable robotic / prosthetic parts still only on the horizon, it is still a matter of much speculation how much of a market there currently is for Immaculate.
Still, it is certain that this concept is not going away any time soon.