One emerging area of rapidly advancing technological developments is prosthetics, where we're seeing huge strides forward in biotechnology, robotics, and microengineering. "Prosthetics" refers to equipment that plays the role of human legs, arms, hands and fingers for individuals with amputated limbs. Here are some fascinating facts for IP professionals to know about the advances being made in this field.
History of Prosthetics
The earliest known evidence of a prosthetic device is the discovery of a wooden toe known as the "Cairo Toe" from 950 BC. The world's oldest prosthetic leg--known as the "Capua Leg"--dates back to 300 BC in Italy.
Doctors began the practice of amputation as early as the fourth century. However, basic misunderstandings of medical principles led to high mortality rates and difficulty in presenting solutions for amputated limbs.
One of the biggest developments in prosthetics occured in the 1500's, during which period interest in metal arms for soldiers who had lost their limbs in battle spiked. French doctor Amboise Paré improved amputation surgery in the late 1520s. At the same time he was able to reform old medical practices that led to bodily damage or poor health. Then in 1536 he began developing prosthetic devices for his patients.
Development of prosthetics then stagnated for a few centuries until 1800 when British inventor James Potts created articulated prostheics for knees and feet. His apprentice William Selpho eventually was awarded US Patent No. 18021 for an Artificial Hand. Amputation became a common treatment during the Civil War, in which an estimated 70,000 soldiers on both sides lost a limb. After the war a wave of new prosthetics patents emerged. Here are other significant patents in the history of prosthetics technology:
- February 1972: US Patent No. 3638243 - Surgically Implantable Prosthetic Joint (Ohio State University)
- March 1972: US Patent No. 3651522 - Prosthetic Brassiere for Use After Surgical Breast Removal (Berger Brothers)
- October 1972: US Patent No. 3698017 - Prosthetic Acetabular Devices (National Research Development Corporation of London)
Forecast for Prosthetics
Obviously, prosthetic development has come a long way since that time. The US military has a demand for high quality prosthetic development, and thanks to new developments in robotics and computer technology, we're able to explore prosthetics that can conduct independent functions, rather than acting simply as placeholders. In 2014 DARPA and Dean Kamen gained FDA approval for a prosthetic system based on a series of electrodes that detect muscle movement. DARPA invested over $100 million in this system that has been developed by over 300 scientists.
The next generation of prosthetic technology will include enhancements of existing modern mechanical developments mixed with AI and IoT technology. The demand for prosthetics will likely continue to be based on utility or cosmetic reasons. Here are key factors that will play a role in the future of prosthetics:
- 3D printing
- Thought-controlled prosthetics
- Brain activity mapping
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