'60 Minutes': Revolutionizing prosthetics Video
'60 Minutes': Revolutionizing prosthetics Video Transcript
>> When American's are wounded in Afghanistan or Iraq, no expenses spared to save their lives. But once their home if they've suffered an amputation of their arm. They usually end up wearing an artificial limb that hasn't changed much since WWII. In all the wonders of modern medicine, building a robotic arm with a fully functioning hand has not been remotely possible, but that's starting to change. You're about to see a remarkable leap in technology called the DEKA arm and it's just one of the breakthroughs in a $100 million Pentagon program called "Revolutionizing Prosthetics." To see how far they've come have a look at where they started.
>> It's a basic hook and I can rotate the hook like this and lock it.
>> Fred Downs has been wearing the standard prosthetic arm since 1968, after he stepped in a land mine in Vietnam.
>> In those days they didn't have a lot of sophistication about it. They fit you and they say this is your arm, this is your leg, and it was the best technology available in those days and you just had to make yourself learn how to use it and I did.
>> Today Down's is the head of prosthetics for the Veteran's Administration. This technology has not changed since 1968 or even before.
>> It was before; actually this arm was basically developed WWII era, after, after the war.
>> There's a hook, something out of Peter Pan and that is just unacceptable.
>> Dr. Geoffrey Ling is an Army colonel and neurologist who leading the "Revolutionizing Prosthetics Program." He's a physician with big dreams and little patient especially when touring Walter Reed Army Medical Center and meeting the troops the he's working for.
>> We in the military have a saying leave no one behind and we've very serious about that and that doesn't mean just on the battle field but also back at home.
>> Ling told us they've made great strides in artificial legs, but a good arm has never been within their grasp.
>> If you look at your hand, it's an incredibly complex piece of machine. What nature has provided us is extraordinary. The opposable thumb, 5 finger independently moving, articulated fingers, it's fantastic what this does.
>> And when you lose your hand you've lost something that makes you human.
>> You're so right Scott because think what makes us separate from every other animal species. We have an opposable thumb. That is in fact what makes us human.
>> Colonel Ling is determined to give that humanity back. His project is run out of DARPA. The Defense Advance Research Projects Agency. The same group that over saw the creation of night vision, stealth aircraft and GPS.
>> Give me a sense of the scale of this project.
>> It's a very large scale. It is very much like a Manhattan project at that scope. It is over $100 million investment now. It involves well over 300 scientists. That is engineers, neuroscientists, psychologists.
>> One of the scientists Ling asked to join the team is Dean Kamen, a sort of rock star in the world of inventors who flies his own jet.
>> It's the fastest non military airplane you can buy right now anywhere in the world.
>> His creations include dozens of medical devices and the Segway.
>> It's very intuitive.
>> Inventions which have made him a multimillionaire.
>> When the folks from the defense department came to this office and said here's what we need. What did they tell you?
>> We want these kids to have something put back on them that will essentially allow one of these kids to pick up a raisin or a grape off a table. Know the difference without looking at it. That is an extraordinary goal.
>> He basically said you're crazy, that's what he told us flat out. He himself, who's a crazy guy himself. I mean he is a very innovative thinker; he is a brilliant man, totally brilliant man, but a mad scientist.
>> I thought they were unbelievably optimistic in their expectations and I told them that.
>> He said to us, he said, I can do it, Mark you're crazy, but we're willing to rise to the challenge because this is important.
>> He's a multi access machining centers.
>> Kamen took us behind the scenes at DEKA Company in New Hampshire to show us how inspiration becomes invention.
>> An engineer designs the part of the computer. He fires it up here on our network.
>> Kamen and his team of 40 engineers spent a year working on the problem and this is what they came up with. When you first started this did you sit down and your desk and look at your hand and figure out how it worked?
>> Well most good engineering is some adaptation of what nature does.
>> It all began by creating dozens of gears, joints and computers that mimic natures design, but then came the hard part, meeting DARPA's demand for an arm no larger than the average humans and no heavier than 9 pounds. This is some of the electronics that fit inside the arm. Tell me about that
>> Well this has 3 processors on it, think of this as 3 PC's worth of computing power and all of this just fits, it's round because it just fits in the wrist joint.
>> In terms of the engineering what was the toughest piece of this? [Laughter]
>> All of it.
>> The prototype had 25 circuit boards and 10 motors, but it would be no good at all unless the patients were willing to accept it.
>> We went and started talking to the real patients, the potential users down at places like Walter Reed and immediately we were shocked to learn even just the hollow plastic shell that they wear when they're out and about sweats and it hurts and it irritates and we came back and realized that if we build the world's best 9 pound arm but nobody will wear it because 24 hours a day or 12 hours a day wearing a 9 pound arm is going to be irritating and frustrating. We said we've got a way bigger problem here.
>> So Kamen's team created a new way to connect the DEKA arm to the body using tiny balloons.
>> And you'll notice now if I hit this button, [background sound]these things are inflating and that's a nice gentle pressure there, but if that's displaced all over your whole shoulder that's an enormous amount of structure.
>> So now the arm is gripping tight on the shoulder so you can lift something heavy.
>> And as soon as he's not griping tight and heavy one or the other might just deflate.
>> Ready to put it on?
>> Ok Kamen asked Fred Downs, the VA official in charge of prosthetics to take off the hook he'd been wearing for 40 years and give the new arm a try.
>> I'm moving this around to see how stable my stump is inside here.
>> The arm is controlled by flexing the shoulder and pressing buttons built into his shoes, almost as if he's typing with his toes.
>> The ball of the foot, outside of the foot and then toes.
>> You were skeptical.
>> Very, very skeptical because I've seen lots of inventions come along in my years of being in charge of prosthetics, so some great stuff, but in the long run it doesn't really work, because your body only has so much tolerance for gadgetry.
>> After practicing for 10 hours, Downs showed us what he could do.
>> Now I use my toes to grasp this. The feeling is hard to describe. For the first time in 40 years my left hand did this. I almost choke up saying it now. It was such an amazing feeling. I was 23 years old the last time I did that. It felt so good to move my arm again, to do things with it, not as fast, not as, but it worked.
>> You just said move my arm. . .
>> . . . again. Did it feel like your arm again?
>> It did, it did, it felt like my arm, it was me. Are you sure I can't take this home with me, this arm? I'm ready for this arm. [Laughter]
>> If Downs is as eager to have the DEKA arm imagine what it would mean to Chuck Hildreth who lost both arms at the age of 18 in an electrical accident.
>> Push the arm.
>> Look at that.
>> He's been volunteering at DEKA for nearly 2 years.
>> Now it seems to me that one of the issues here would be that you don't have any feeling in this hand. So that question becomes how do you pick up an egg? How do you pick up something that you might crush? How do you know?
>> I have a vibrator sensor here that tells me how tightly I am grabbing things. The more intense the grasp, the more intense the vibration is.
>> You know you've set me up here with a plate of grapes and this I've gotta see ok. How do you pick up a grape without crushing it?
>> Let's see ^M00:08:52 [ Background sounds ] ^M00:09:00
>> No way. Consider Chuck hasn't eaten like this in nearly 30 years. Many of the innovations in robotics that make this possible are already at work in artificial legs. [ Background sounds ]
>> These are the latest and greatest. These are the Power Knees; they actually have a motor inside them. They help propel me.
>>Josh Bleill lost his legs in 2006 to a roadside bomb in Iraq. Last year he became the first person in the world to walk on 2 of these. They're called Power Knees. Legs that propel themselves and talk to each other to keep a constant speed and stride. How fast will one of these go?
>> Faster than I can control to be honest with you. [Laughter]Not to a run yet, but they do have a lot of power.
>> Now making a robotic arm that moves as naturally and effortlessly as these legs is the next step in revolutionizing prosthetics. Colonel Lang says the key is connecting the artificial limb straight into the nervous system.
>> Remember they lost an arm, but that big bundle of nerves that came out of the spinal cord still exists in their shoulder.
>> So the nerves that control the arm they're not necessarily lost with the arm?
>> They're not lost right.
>> And the brain continues to send those signals to those nerves when a person imagines moving their missing limb.
>> That is correct.
>> I'm one of over 300 engineer's worldwide working on this.
>> Jonathan Kuniholm is uniquely qualified to figure out how to tap into those signals. He's a biomechanical engineer at Duke University who lost his arm to a road side bomb in Iraq. Explain to me what you are doing with your right arm and sensors and how that relates to your new right hand. I'm imagining performing movements with my right hand and when I do that I'm moving the muscles that remain here in my arm. When those muscles move they make little electrical impulses that we can detect with these electrodes.
>> So imagine closing your hand for me.
>> So I imagine flexing my wrist, doing a key pinch.
>> To be clear, Jonathan is controlling this robotic hand simply by thinking about moving his own hand that no longer exists. How much training is required to move this hand with those muscles? How long did it take you to learn how to do this?
>> I'm not really learning so much as the computer is. I'm doing what I imagine I would like to do and we've taught the computer to interpret the signals and do what it is.
>> So it almost feels natural to you?
>> It does.
>> After 4 years and a $100 million dollars arms controlled by thought are still a work in progress but in the mean time, the DEKA arm is headed to the VA for clinical testing in the hope that it will soon become available to the nearly 200 arm amputee's from Iraq and Afghanistan.
>> Nobody ever wants to put a price tag on making a solider or a Marine whole again, but you're talkin about $100 million dollars.
>> That's right.
>> It's a big number.
>> It's a huge number. But it does a number of things. Number 1 is, of course, it fulfills our commitment to these fine young men and women who the issue of money compared to what they have done to the service to the nation becomes immaterial, however this is not a classified, military weapons system. This is an advancement in medical technology. And the beauty of this particular effort is that this is another gift of the American tax payer to the entire world.
Chuck Hildreth, who lost both arms at the age of 18 in an electrical accident, tries out the DEKA arm.
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