Out of this world bionics

I remember when I was little and my biggest problem was figuring out what to do for the science fair. I looked for inspiration everywhere. I’m sure today’s kids in my shoes might be inspired to build a time-turner or the TARDIS. That’s the sort of thinking that makes a great scientist, or at least that’s what I’ve concluded from this Technology Tuesday.

rocket motor armRarely does rocket science and medicine cross paths, but this researcher is smack in the intersection! Michael Goldfarb of Vanderbilt University is trying to design a bionic arm that has more power that current options yet stays true to the natural weight of an arm. Other teams try to use batteries and electric motors to achieve this objective. Not Dr. Goldfarb; he opted for a rocket motor. As in, a mini space-shuttle motor.

Goldfarb’s power source is about the size of a pencil and contains a special catalyst that causes hydrogen peroxide to burn. When this compound burns, it produces pure steam. The steam is used to open and close a series of valves. The valves are connected to the spring-loaded joints of the prosthesis by belts made of a special monofilament used in appliance handles and aircraft parts.  —vanderbilt.edu

I don’t know about you, but this guy is starting to sound like Inspector Gadget to me. Clearly, whatever science he’s doing is working because this prototype (as of 2007) could lift 20-25 lbs, which is 3 or 4 times greater than current arms. And the prototype can do it 3 to 4 times faster!

They also threw in a few more feats of engineering by upgrading from the typical two joints (elbow and claw); this model has elbow, wrist, thumb and finger joints. It’s movement closer approximates that of a natural gait. And, the precision with which they make the valves, is so high, that it is beyond our capabilities to measure! (Valve clearances are at 50 millionths of an inch)

I’m guessing Goldfarb has read this book. Maybe it might help inspire another science project!

Think Like A Rocket Scientist book


2 thoughts on “Out of this world bionics

  1. Wow that is totally nuts, it would be a steam powered arm or leg? I think we get closer and closer to some sort of cyborg implants. As am amputee it does see interesting to get these upgrade but I get fearful of super criminals or needing to register your arm as a deadly weapon. Getting through the armport now is a chore in some citys, somrthing like this might be impossible to get on a plane. But hey if they make super powered legs maybe I could just run next time, lol.

    • Wow, Paco. That is such a good point! I can easily imagine that one day you will have to register your prosthetic devices! I bet our grandchildren will think it’s weird that back in my day we didn’t have superhuman prosthetics! (Maybe we will even have a real world Iron Man–tech geniuses with a love for comics.) It’s kind of funny to think about. Considering how creativity and technologies are meeting in a way like never before, I think there will be some pretty cool products in the works that we can’t even imagine yet. Who knows, you might even need a license to operate them.
      Thanks for the comment. You really got me thinking. It’s fun to imagine all the out-of-this-world possibilities, especially since it’s totally in the realm of possibility!
      Maybe one day able-bodied people will opt for prosthetics! What do you think?

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