Popular Mechanics recently announced the winners of its Breakthrough Awards, which included two projects related to the prosthetics industry. These awards recognize innovators and products that have advanced the fields of technology, medicine, space exploration, automotive design and environmental engineering, among others, according to Popular Mechanics.
Katherine Bomkamp, a junior at West Virginia University, received the Next-Generation Award for her development of a prosthesis that addresses phantom limb pain. The original prototype, which she developed as a high school science fair project, used battery-powered foot warmers to apply heat to the residual limb and soothe the muscles.
After winning her science fair and receiving honorable mention at the 2010 Intel International Science and Engineering Fair, Bomkamp continued to develop the prosthesis. The most recent prototype has automatic temperature regulation, embedded thermo-resistive wiring and a solar-powered lithium-ion battery. She recently received a patent for the device and is planning to launch clinical trials to test its effectiveness.
Also among the winners was a group of researchers and clinicians from the University of Pittsburgh for their work with a brain-computer interface (BCI) that enabled Tim Hemmes, a 30-year-old quadriplegic man, to operate a robotic arm with his thoughts.
The BCI was adapted from research conducted by Andrew Schwartz, PhD, a neurobiologist at the University of Pittsburgh, who trained monkeys with microchips embedded in their brains to feed themselves with a robotic arm that was controlled with the monkey’s thoughts. Working with fellow colleagues at the University of Pittsburgh, the group developed an electromyography grid that was implanted in Hemmes’ brain. The grid was connected to a robotic arm created by researchers at Johns Hopkins University, which Hemmes was able to control in three dimensions using his thoughts. Eventually, the researchers hope to embed sensors in the robotic arm that will be able to relate feeling back to the operator.
The awards were presented at a conference and ceremony on October 4 in New York City.