back to article Boffin: Use my bionic breakthrough for good, and not super cyborgs

Austrian scientists have used a technique dubbed "bionic reconstruction" to connect a robot hand to human nerves, enabling directly brain-controlled prosthetics for the first time. "Bionic reconstruction is a holistic concept that covers more than just surgical technique," said Prof Oskar Aszmann, MD, Head of the Christian …

  1. stuartnz

    An inflationary universe

    When I first read this, I flashed back to childhood memories of watching Steve Austin. Then I laughed and laughed and laughed - we may indeed "have the technology", perhaps now "we can rebuild him" , but $6 million dollars?! The poor guy would barely get a bionic fingernail for that! :D

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: An inflationary universe

      That's not the worst of it. Imagine they would have to hear that dud.dud.dud.dud sound every time they moved anything - it would drive me nuts.

      Joking aside, sterling work. I hope they will indeed get this stable and then work on bringing the cost point down. I reckon the tech may become cheaper, but the rather extensive surgery will probably remain a high cost for quite some time, even if they become more efficient in the required grafts.

      What I find fascinating is that it also reduces phantom pain.

      1. Mark 85 Silver badge

        Re: An inflationary universe

        Price point is a serious problem with prosthetics. The much touted and very effective micro-processor knees for above knee amputees aren't cheap. They start about $30,000 (US) and go up. Add in a socket (the part that fits on the stump) $10,000 +, oh. and the foot. Those start at about $2000. The knees last for about 5 years, the sockets anywhere from 1 to 3 years depending on the activity level and weight of the amputee. The feet... about the same as the knee. Recurring costs and even though these things have been around for quite a few years, the costs are still going up. There's a maintenance cost (they require being sent back to the factory every other year for overhaul) and this is borne not just by the manufacturer, but also by the prosthetics shop that makes the leg for the amputee.

        I shudder to think what this hand/arm would cost even they can drop the cost. You still have the costs of the people putting it together, the training, etc.

        I'll add this since many don't know, but building prosthetics for people is just as much an art as it is a science to get the limb comfortable and usable. Technology can only go so far in this as far as componentry and methods. The usability still comes down to the practitioner's knowledge, experience, and willingness to problem solve. Every amputee is different.

        Insurance companies don't like these "improvements" for obvious reasons as it costs them money thus they still class all these microprocessor knees as "experimental" and for the amputee to get first one is usually a battle royal. After they have one, it's fairly easy to get a replacement but that battle for the first one puts a lot of amputees off.

        I'm not an amputee or a practitioner, my wife is an amputee. I've had to learn a lot to support her leg and problem solve. Given what I've had to learn to help her, yeah... if I could make the investment in equipment (figure about $25,000 for basic things like a pizza oven, vacuum pumps, computer tools, etc.) and find a supplier willing to sell to someone other than "accredited shop", I probably could do the building and all the adjustments. But, that ain't gonna' happen. Most spouses/significant others have little clue about how to do this but I've had to learn. When a part breaks on a Sunday and the practioner is out of the office on vacation the next week, getting her walking becomes a priority and the learning curve can be a real bitch.

        1. Intractable Potsherd Silver badge

          Re: An inflationary universe

          I reckon that soon there will be an initially small but significant market for these as enhancements, or for people with less serious, but still life-detracting, problems such as rheumatoid arthritis, regardless of what the doctor says in the article. This means that economies of scale will be possible, to the benefit of those who nee them to get back to a "normal" level of function.

  2. Swarthy
    Thumb Up

    I applaud this research

    We should all give 'em a hand!

    1. tony72
      Thumb Up

      Re: I applaud this research

      I wonder if there's enough control of that hand for the old five knuckle shuffle? My natural hand is going to wear out one day, and I could use a bionic upgrade!

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: I applaud this research

        By the time your natural hand wears out, a bionic one would be overkill. A dog and jar of peanut butter would be much more economical.

      2. MrDamage

        Re: I applaud this research

        What's the difference between pink and purple?

        Whether its a natural or bionic hand gripping the tool.

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: I applaud this research

        You could turn off the touch sensors and it would feel like someone else doing it.

  3. L05ER


    To quote Bart Simpson...

    God, Schmod... I want my monkey man.

    Flawed, but it works... Why should handicapped people be the only ones capable of superhuman feats?

    I guess I can see disabling myself if I have to...

    1. Christoph Silver badge

      Re: pfft

      Yet more prophetic SF: Limbo '90

  4. This post has been deleted by its author

  5. Boris the Cockroach Silver badge


    they've perfected this technique.... theres no reason why the arm needs to remain attatched to the controller.

    Imagine a robot in space (LEO) fitted with 2 bionic arms controled by a diabled guy sitting in mission control.

    Or a remote handling situation else where on the planet

    1. James Micallef Silver badge

      Re: Once

      "no reason why the arm needs to remain attatched to the controller."

      Indeed - and eventually, why just an arm? Do a whole body, Avatar* style

      The film may have been a bit 'dances with smurfs' but even the biggest critics got to admit that teh concept of mind-controlling a whole other body is pretty cool

      1. Simon Harris Silver badge
        Thumb Up

        @ James Micallef Re: Once

        'dances with smurfs' - have an upvote!

      2. Martin Budden Bronze badge

        Re: Once

        Dances with Smurfs? Avatar was just a big-budget remake of FernGully.

    2. Tom 38 Silver badge

      Re: Once

      they've perfected this technique.... theres no reason why the arm needs to remain attatched to the controller.

      I think you are overlooking the role the mind plays in working out new routes for nerves to travel. You don't put on the prosthetic and away you go, you have to discover the right signals to send to achieve an effect, and train your mind to send that signal.

      Part of that works because the arm is, well, an arm. This is also why the phantom pain goes away - they don't miss an arm, because they've got one. A disembodied arm is not an arm. You would need to train your mind to ignore the impossibility of it.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Once

        A disembodied arm is not an arm. You would need to train your mind to ignore the impossibility of it.

        That, however, is not exactly impossible. The brain is rather good at adapting - there are plenty experiments to prove that, such as getting used to glasses that turn everything upside down.

      2. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: Once

        Mr Smith, the good news is you have been accepted into the bionic astronaut corps.

        Now the bad news ...... sound of chainsaw starting up ....

  6. Little Mouse

    All joking aside...

    Wow. It's not like this was an easy option for anyone concerned. Voluntary amputation? Months of training?

    Sounds like some really groundbreaking work being done here.

    Hats off to all concerned. the prosthetics of ten or twenty years from now will be what they are thanks to people like this.

  7. Mark 85 Silver badge


    This is very groundbreaking work on something that's been dreamt about and crudely implemented for many years. My only concern is that like some other work in this area, will the funding run out and a year or three will these guys be stuck with dead hardware? I hope not... I'd like to see what improvements are coming in the near future.

  8. xperroni
    Paris Hilton

    "First time" this week, maybe

    Except for the cut'n'paste of flesh bits I've seen this general procedure – surgically recruit nerve terminals to drive a bionic prosthesis – reported time and again for the past 5 years at least. I cannot really be arsed to look up the earliest examples now, but here is one from late last year:

    Amputee Makes History with APL's Modular Prosthetic Limb

    A Colorado man made history at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) this summer when he became the first bilateral shoulder-level amputee to wear and simultaneously control two of the Laboratory’s Modular Prosthetic Limbs. Most importantly, Les Baugh, who lost both arms in an electrical accident 40 years ago, was able to operate the system by simply thinking about moving his limbs, performing a variety of tasks during a short training period.

  9. king of foo

    I wonder... iTitties ?

    I'm not exactly He-man but I've seen some guys able to wiggle their tit muscles (er, they may have an actual name but you know what I mean) about pretty impressively - could this be a business opportunity?

    Not content with just looking like a wanker using your iPod, iPhone and iPad simultaneously while sipping TEA at an expensive coffee franchise, pausing briefly to adjust your hat, one can now use their iBra/iTit to control a third bionic hand to toss one off under the table...

  10. OzBob

    And not a single mention

    of Kelvin Warwick (aka Captain Cyborg, and various other profanities too crude to list here).

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: And not a single mention

      Too late, I mentioned him :)

      He deserves a mention for being full of it.

  11. Crisp

    Why can't we use it for both?

    I could be a good super cyborg.

    1. WraithCadmus

      Re: Why can't we use it for both?

      You want to be some sort of cybernetic superhero? Booyaa!

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    But I thought Captain Cyborg (aka Kevin Warwick) would be at the forefront of this sort of research?

  13. Ben 38

    Such a waste...

    ... I would use my robot hand for good!

    1. It'sa Mea... Mario

      Re: Such a waste...

      Classic Moss :)

  14. Yugguy

    Lovely bed side manner

    "Finally all three men had their knackered hands cut off"

    Don't give up the day job.


  15. Pen-y-gors Silver badge

    Hands? Pah! Kiddie stuff

    News reports today

    about scientists planning full body transplants! Now THAT I want to see!

    How would it work if they transplant a woman's head onto a male body, or vice-versa? Could be a whole terrifying future ahead - 80 year old man kills 20 year old to take their body and live for centuries.

    1. James 51

      Re: Hands? Pah! Kiddie stuff

      The brain ages just like everything else. You might buy yourself more time but you eventually you'd end up with a brain tumour, injury or dementia.

      1. G Fan

        Re: Hands? Pah! Kiddie stuff

        ... if you made it that far. The body's immune system is apt to reject the head after a few days.

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