Cutting edge artificial limbs now being developed locally
WORCESTER, Mass. —
Debi Latour was born without an arm.
In the 1950s, they didn't let children wear prosthetics until they were 5 years old.
But with her parents insistence, Shriners Hospital made an exception, and at just 14 months, Latour became one of the youngest people to ever wear an artificial limb.
"To my parents, this first device offered hope," Latour said. "Their hope that I would be able to do everything that a two handed child could do."
Latour went on to be an occupational therapist. 50 years later, she's now advising on the next generation of prosthetics.
"We know a lot about the engineering and testing, she knows a lot more about how people use the arm, how to do these tasks and test them," Ted Clancy with Worcester Polytechnic Institute said.
Clancy and his team are working with Latour to develop the next wave of devices.
They've developed an algorithm that allow users to open a round door knob.
By detecting an electrical signal from the brain that is just one 1-hundredth of a volt, they can make a device move more freely. "We can sense that electrical signal and then use that electrical signal to control the hand and the wrist," Clancy said.
The gears, wires and processors create a second challenge: weight.
So, the WPI team is developing tiny WiFi sensors located in a band that fits around the residual limb with no wires and no equipment needed.
Right now, the band is connected to a computer for testing.
Nearly two million people in the United States are living with limb loss. Another 185,000 amputations occur every year.
"The overall goal is to make the prosthetics more useful for people," Clancy said. "They can do more with them. Feel better about what they are doing and be more participator in society."