The biggest challenge for those who lose limbs through amputation or trauma is that life never really returns to a sense of normalcy. If you lose a leg, going for a run feels like a luxury. Losing your sight or your hearing can completely change how you interact with the world around you.
This harsh reality was daily routine for James Sides, a retired Staff Sergeant from Colorado. During his second tour of Afghanistan, Staff Sergeant Sides encountered an IED. Trained in disposal, Sides went to work on clearing the bomb. Without warning, the bomb detonated. The blast sent shrapnel into his body and knocked him over. It also blinded him in one eye, broke his forearm and took one of his hands.
That’s where the Alfred Mann Foundation, Steve Doctrow and Rogers and Cowan thought that they might be able to help improve the quality of Sides’ life. Founded by Alfred Mann in 1985, the foundation has several core goals including the exploration of how bionics can improve quality of life for people like James Sides. Rogers and Cowan helped to facilitate this exchange and promote the project. This kind opf breakthrough is unprecedented, and the Foundation wanted big attention for their unveiling.
They fitted Sides with a device that has two components. The first is smaller than a penny. It’s a tiny sensor that must be embedded within the muscles of the arm. This transceiver uses radio frequencies to interpret muscle movements that would dictate how the hand might respond. Outsides see a man moving his hand, but the science behind this shows an incredible understanding of the human body.
Although this technology is promising, Sides is one of only seven people in the world to have a robotic arm. The Alfred Mann Foundation hopes that these early proofs of concept will give way to more affordable devices that can be deployed to the general population.