“it’s a Sleepless world, they’re just awaking to it”

Posted by on June 9th, 2013

Warning [SPOILERS]: if you care about the plots of Nikita, Iron Man 3, The Bourne Legacy… stop now, go watch ‘em all then come back. Hi!

Philosophy so physical makes for a very handsome tribe.


This scene from Canadian science-fiction drama show Orphan Black is the best rendering of a Grinder Bar yet seen on screens small or large. In fact, I’m not even sure what the others are.

And it’s a good reason to take a whip-around look at the world of pop culture as serious business, and re-examine the state of the #transhumanfuturepresent.

First we have the latest season of the spy soap, Nikita. Referring in-show to its “spy fi” plot elements, the absolute transhuman drama of cyborg hand upgrades and cutting edge transplant dramatic problems. Don’t bring a possibly evil hand to a knife fight or something.

The settings of Iron Man 3 and The Bourne Legacy are both unquestionably transhuman. Neither film is a journey of a character to science-fictional state (see recent highlights: Limitless, Chronicle), but rather their starting condition.

(We can wedge Hanna in here too, though it’s more properly a genetically engineered super-solider girl coming of age fairy tale, innit).

In Iron Man 3, Tony Stark (1.0) not only has upgraded-girlfriend-dramas (well, Red She-Hulk solutions) but the plot driver is a conflict between two competing paths of self-directed human evolution: man/machine co-evolution and direct genetic hacking (hopefully not precluding the eventual arrival of Zeke Stane (Tony Stark 2.0) onto the big screen, that plot having been mined from The Five Nightmares arc of The Invincible Iron Man).

Speaking about playing Aldritch Killan, Guy Pearce mentions that Extremis also upgrades the subject to become one of the beautiful people:

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In The Bourne Legacy, our hero, who totally isn’t being chased by the mutant wolves of The Grey as it opens, is the latest iteration of the super-soldierspy program. His motivation is to hold onto his upgraded self, lest he reverts back to being the guy from The Lawnmower Man, or something.

Once you’ve gone transhuman…

Back in Canada, and actually set-in-Canada Canadian drama Continuum, which apart from featuring an absolutely bad-ass tech suit rather a lot like Deus Ex: Human Revolution‘s (itself a bridge between its low-grade #peakcyberpunkfuture and today, a cyborg hand reaching back to the present), combines transhuman future cop trapped in the present drama, with standard procedural drama, and excellent sociopolitical critique. Honestly, the first show on TV that I wish I was writing for ([blink]%HIRE ME%[/blink]).

Plus in the actual RL, we have Google Glass, already getting surpassed by the Meta. Pioneers like Steve Mann and Neil HarbigesenSports stories speculating on specific upgrades already being outdated… and other things I’m sure I’ve missed. So tell me!

and while we’re talking, let’s discuss the anti-posthuman agenda of Star Trek, most recently seen in Into the Darkness:

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Litmus test: who is the real villain in X-Men: First Class?

And we leave you with the trailer for Elysium, grinder revenge pr0n if ever there was one:

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tachyon rich data trails of transhuman theft

Posted by on April 12th, 2013

Triggered by yetAnotherMacTheftGoneViralForGreatFirstWorldJustice, agent @interdome‘s wired consciousness achieved resonance with his near-future-self, causing the creation of the following micro-time-leaked tweets:

Bladerunner races Horse in posthuman spectacle

Posted by on December 12th, 2012
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Because you need to be a spy agency to see the immediate future is looking very transhuman:

In the new report, the NIC describes how implants, prosthetics, and powered exoskeletons will become regular fixtures of human life — what could result in substantial improvements to innate human capacities.

The entire report can be read here.


Posted by on November 13th, 2012

The Continuing Merger of Man & Machine:

  • DARPA’s Pet-Proto Robot Navigates Obstacles:YouTube Preview Imagethanks Carsten Kolassa!
  • 1st Bionic leg propels man up 103 flights:
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  • ‘Terminator’ arm is world’s most advanced prosthetic limb:
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  • Batteries not required, just plug into ear cells:

    The team behind the technology used a natural electrochemical gradient in cells within the inner ear of a guinea pig to power a wireless transmitter for up to five hours.

    The technique could one day provide an autonomous power source for brain and cochlear implants, says Tina Stankovic, an auditory neuroscientist at Harvard University Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts.

    The device works well for short durations but long-term use of the electrodes risks damaging the sensitive tissue inside the ear. The next step will be to make the electrodes even smaller, reducing their invasiveness.

    Stankovic says that this is proof of concept that biological sources of energy exist that have not yet been fully considered. “A very futuristic view is that maybe we will be able to extract energy from individual cells using similar designs,” she says.

  • Assembly of nano-machines mimics human muscle:

    …for the first time, Giuseppone’s team has succeeded in synthesizing long polymer chains incorporating, via supramolecular bonds (1), thousands of nano-machines each capable of producing linear telescopic motion of around one nanometer. Under the influence of pH, their simultaneous movements allow the whole polymer chain to contract or extend over about 10 micrometers, thereby amplifying the movement by a factor of 10,000, along the same principles as those used by muscular tissues. Precise measurements of this experimental feat have been performed in collaboration with the team led by Eric Buhler, a physicist specialized in radiation scattering at the Laboratoire Matière et Systèmes Complexes (CNRS/Université Paris Diderot).

    These results, obtained using a biomimetic approach, could lead to numerous applications for the design of artificial muscles, micro-robots or the development of new materials incorporating nano-machines endowed with novel multi-scale mechanical properties.

  • What made us human? Being ARMED with lethal ranged weapons -Early kill-tech let us beat Neanderthals, dominate world:

    “When Africans left Africa and entered Neanderthal territory they had projectiles with greater killing reach,” explains Professor Curtis Marean, an expert in stone weapons who was instrumental in the research.

    These early moderns probably also had higher levels of pro-social (hyper-cooperative) behavior. These two traits were a knockout punch. Combine them, as modern humans did and still do, and no prey or competitor is safe,” he adds. “This probably laid the foundation for the expansion out of Africa of modern humans and the extinction of many prey as well as our sister species such as Neanderthals.”

  • gilding primal instinct’s new Prosthetic Jewelry:

  • Nyodyme from Imagina Technologies (already SOLD OUT):

    Nyodyme Magnets give their users the ability to “sense” electromagnetic waves. The technology behind the Nyodyme Magnet is created from a beautiful gold and nickel-plated neodymium magnet that is placed within Imagina’s specially made glue that has magnetic iron filings mixed into it to enhance the vibrations.

  • Military makeup will protect soldiers from bomb-blast burns:

    A new type of camouflage makeup is able to protect wearers from skin burns. Scientists at the University of Southern Mississippi developed the makeup for use in combat situations, but the team plans on developing a transparent version for firefighters. The new material acts like sunblock, forming a barrier thinner than a sheet of paper that can protect skin from extreme heat for up to 15 seconds. After that time, the makeup itself may rise to a temperature where first-degree (mild) burns may occur, but the extra time should help soldiers to find shelter from any explosion. In some tests, the scientists found that the face paint shielded its test subjects for up to 60 seconds.

TRUE SKIN [short film]

Posted by on October 11th, 2012

via Digitalyn

1500s prosthetic hand by Ambroise Paré

Posted by on September 28th, 2012

From io9, this prosthetic hand was designed in the 1500s by Ambroise Paré:

It was a hand that was operated by multiple catches and springs, which simulated the joints of a biological hand. When he showed his design to colleagues it was such a sensation that they worked up a prototype, and in 1551, a movable prosthesis was worn into battle by a French army captain. The Captain claimed it worked so well that he was able to grip and release the reigns of his horse.

Hacking your Enlightenment and other transhuman future titbits

Posted by on August 22nd, 2012
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Particularly fascinating interview with Jeffery A. Martin here, not just for his research into the Enlightened, but for his eventual synthesis towards a speculative life for the newly near-immortal.

Other transhuman future titbits from around the web of late:

This is not how the world ends

Posted by on August 16th, 2012

Images link to source or higher rez where available. Your favourite Zeitgeist images, put them in the comments.

cyborg feelings

Posted by on June 19th, 2012

When confronted with random materials, the robot would make a number of intelligently-selected exploratory movements (like rubs, wiggles and pokes) before identifying the material. It got the answer right 95 percent of the time.

Via WIRED UK we learn of the great work from the University of Southern California’s Viterbi School of Engineering.

The robot was equipped with a new type of tactile sensor built to mimic the human fingertip. It also used a newly designed algorithm to make decisions about how to explore the outside world by imitating human strategies. Capable of other human sensations, the sensor can also tell where and in which direction forces are applied to the fingertip and even the thermal properties of an object being touched.

Like the human finger, the group’s BioTac® sensor has a soft, flexible skin over a liquid filling. The skin even has fingerprints on its surface, greatly enhancing its sensitivity to vibration. As the finger slides over a textured surface, the skin vibrates in characteristic ways. These vibrations are detected by a hydrophone inside the bone-like core of the finger. The human finger uses similar vibrations to identify textures, but the robot finger is even more sensitive.

PBS piece on advances in prosthetics

Posted by on June 29th, 2011

Great overview on Better Living Through Upgrades:

Watch the full episode.

via Wolven

Song of the Machine

Posted by on April 23rd, 2011

Song of the Machine is my favourite kind of design fiction, combining multiple forms of extrapolation from the present into the future.

Unlike the implants and electrodes used to achieve bionic vision, this science modifies the human body genetically from within. First, a virus is used to infect the degenerate eye with a light-sensitive protein, altering the biological capabilities of the subject. Then, the new biological capabilities are augmented with wearable (opto)electronics, which, by mimicking the eye’s neural song, establish a direct optical link to the brain. It’s as if the virus gives the body ears to hear the song of the machine, allowing it to sing the world into being.

So we’ve got advances in genetic engineering combined with electronic ones to overcome a biological disability through continuing man’s progress, it’s ongoing co-evolution with the tools he creates. Except this marks a Rubicon Moment, the crossing of a threshold into a merger between man and his technology and the result is something far more, a step toward the posthuman.

Get used to this. Better living through upgrades.

For more details see this article in the Guardian by the consultant to this project, Dr Patrick Degenaar, optogenetics researcher at Newcastle University and leader of the OptoNeuro project.

TED Talk: It’s time to question bio-engineering

Posted by on March 23rd, 2011

There’s not that much that’s new here, for those of us that have been closely following this over the years, but it’s still quite something to see listed, one after another, the many achievements made recently in genetic and bio engineering.

What I also like about this TED Talk, being by a bio-ethicist, is that he focuses on identifying the areas ethics need to be applied, without prescribing solutions or making immediate value judgements, something that seems to be increasingly rarer these days.

Prosthetics gallery in Time Life and PowerKnees more widely available

Posted by on February 25th, 2011

Wonderful gallery in Time Life, In Praise of Prosthetics (via @aeromenthe):

Meanwhile, on Engadget:

“the world’s first and only motor-powered prosthetic knee” was recently approved for reimbursement by the German National Health System, covered by private insurance in France and the UK, and picked up by select healthcare providers in the US. Power Knee combines “artificial intelligence,” motion sensors, and wireless communication to learn and adjust to the walking style of its users — that’s one small step for real-life cyborgs and one giant leap for prosthetic technology.

German engineers create the most robust robotic hand yet

Posted by on January 27th, 2011

We’re seriously entering into “chop my weak flesh off and give me that” territory here.

From IEEE Spectrum:

German researchers have built an anthropomorphic robot hand that can endure collisions with hard objects and even strikes from a hammer without breaking into pieces. [Video]

In designing the new hand system, researchers at the Institute of Robotics and Mechatronics, part of the German Aerospace Center (DLR), focused on robustness. They may have just built the toughest robot hand yet.

The DLR hand has the shape and size of a human hand, with five articulated fingers powered by a web of 38 tendons, each connected to an individual motor on the forearm.

The main capability that makes the DLR hand different from other robot hands is that it can control its stiffness. The motors can tension the tendons, allowing the hand to absorb violent shocks. In one test, the researchers hit the hand with a baseball bat—a 66 G impact. The hand survived.

The hand has a total of 19 degrees of freedom, or only one less than the real thing, and it can move the fingers independently to grasp varied objects. The fingers can exert a force of up to 30 newtons at the fingertips, which makes this hand also one of the strongest ever built.

Another key element in the DLR design is a spring mechanism connected to each tendon. These springs give the tendons, which are made from a super strong synthetic fiber called Dyneema, more elasticity, allowing the fingers to absorb and release energy, like our own hands do. This capability is key for achieving robustness and for mimicking the kinematic, dynamic, and force properties of the human hand.

During normal operation, the finger joints can turn at about 500 degrees per second. By tensioning the springs, and then releasing their energy to produce extra torque, the joint speed can reach 2000 degrees per second. This means that this robot hand can do something few others, if any, can: snap its fingers.

Keep reading..


For the two people that hadn’t already seen this, I may as well wedge it in here.  How quickly we go from joke to near-future fact:

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Organic semiconductor materials look key to creating retinal prosthetics

Posted by on January 26th, 2011

From New Scientist:

Light-sensitive plastic might be key to repairing damaged retinas. Creating neuro-prosthetic devices such as retinal implants is tricky because biological tissue doesn’t mix well with electronics. Metals and inorganic semiconductor materials can adversely affect the health or function of nerve cells, says Fabio Benfenati at the Italian Institute of Technology in Milan. And over time the body’s natural defences can be incredibly hostile and corrosive to such materials.

The emergence of flexible, organic semiconductor materials now offers an alternative. To test them, Benfenati and colleagues seeded nerve cells onto the surface of a light-sensitive semiconducting polymer similar to those used in some solar cells. The cells grew into extensive networks containing thousands of neurons. “We have proved that the materials are highly biocompatible,” says Benfenati.

What’s more, the presence of the cells did not interfere with the optical properties of the polymer. The team were able to use the neuron-coated polymer as an electrode in a light-driven electrolytic cell.

When short pulses of light were aimed at specific sections of the polymer, only local neurons fired, suggesting the material has the spatial selectivity needed for artificial retinas, says Benfenati.

“It’s very elegant science,” says Robert Greenberg, whose company Second Sight is close to receiving clinical approval for its retinal prosthesis. But Greenberg questions whether the electrical currents generated would be sufficient to stimulate nerve cells in the eye.

It’s still too early to tell, says Benfenati. But he thinks the new material is worth further study, because of another benefit. It can be tuned to respond only to specific wavelengths of light, raising the prospect of creating artificial colour vision, he says.

Man and Machine

Posted by on December 3rd, 2010

Here’s my grinder/cyborg happy place for the night:

Youtube user lovagoa was seriously injured in a motorcycle accident.  As a result, he had months of painful physical therapy, was confined to a bed for 6 months and lost his left arm.

However, he still wanted to ride.

Brands, Prosthetic Identities and the Batman

Posted by on November 24th, 2010

I’m going to start with the Batman – since he’s close to the beginning of the alphabet and as an entry-point into any topic, he’s near and dear to my heart.   Recently in the pages of DC/Warner’s Batman titles, Bruce Wayne (recently returned from a prolonged absence)  publicly announced that he and Wayne Enterprises had been the bankroll behind Batman and that he was going to expand the scope of this operation, globally.   In doing so, he was not only embracing the idea of Batman as a brand but also setting up the basis for a whole group of crimefighters and super-heroes under the Batman roof – multiple Batmen, specialized Batmen, opt-in superheroism.

I’m going to leave the fictional fallout, predecessors, and implications of this idea to the comics blogs and stick to what it means to you and I in the here-and-now in the non-four colour world.   I use Batman because I speak superheroes, and because for me he provides a window into a few concepts I want to explore.

Batman, Inc. is the idea that we can all be Batman, if we want to.

Restructuring the mission statement of Batman as the idea of Batman versus Evil, instead of a one-man war on crime creates a massive amount of operational freedom in how Batman can fight crime/injustice/evil and all of that.  Are you the best person for the job?  Are you on-site or able to do the right thing, when needed?  Congratulations, you’re Batman!  Warren Ellis did something similar and less corporatist with his Global Frequency – an organization that had 1000 experts and 1 rotating specialist slot and tried to diffuse disasters that traditional hierarchies didn’t have the resources or ability to deal with.  Do you have a specialty - no matter how obscure?  Then perhaps, in a crisis, the Global Frequency will call on you.

In doing this, Batman and the Global Frequency could respond to countless situations with expert knowledge and fast reactions.  Now this isn’t a new idea by any means – in either the realms of fiction or the real world.  Batman’s stated objective has long been to “become more than a man” except now he’s taken the logical step of following through on that.  In a way, Batman has become the tights and laser-gorillas version of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta.  Just as the idea of MEND draws strength from the ability of non-related groups to take up its flag operationally, the idea of Batman as anti-Evil and fast-reacting draws power from the ability of Batman to operate in the absence of any previously acknowledged Batman presence.

I want to return to this – the ability of self-identified ideological groups to act as fast responders in the absence of pre-established infrastructure – in a bit.   But for now I want to talk about the potential empowerment of brands.

Bruce Wayne and the others under his banner are using Batman as a prosthetic.  Dick Grayson (former Robin, current Batman) + the Bat Symbol brings the weight of the Batman brand with it. The Batman is an interface for all sorts of fictional folks to interact with the world around them – it is an encapsulation of brand not just as a symbol of belonging or allegiance but also of interface with and exploring the environment.

You know, like Kanye West.

Robin Sloan’s brilliant piece on Kanye West: Media Cyborg explores the idea that West and other celebrities are media cyborgs – leveraging the media as prosthetics.

Media lets you clone pieces of yourself and send them out into the world to have conversations on your behalf. Even while you’re sleeping, your media —your books, your blog posts, your tweets—is on the march. It’s out there trying to making connections. Mostly it’s failing, but that’s okay: these days, copies are cheap. We’re all Jamie Madrox now.

Okay, let’s keep things in perspective. For most of us, even the blogotronic twitternauts of the Snarkmatrix, this platoon of posts is a relatively small part of who we are. But I’d argue that for an exceptional set of folks—the Kanyes, the Gagas, the Obamas—it is a crucial, even central, component.

Maybe that sounds dehumanizing, but I don’t think it ought to be. We’re already pretty sure that the mind is not a single coherent will but rather a crazy committee whose deliberations get smoothed out into the thing we call consciousness or identity or whatever. Use your imagination: what if some of that committee operates remotely? If 99.99% of the world will only ever encounter Kanye West through the bright arc of media that he produces—isn’t that media, in some important way, Kanye?

By becoming a transmedia brand, the Batman gains the ability to clone itself and sent out its conceptual mind-babies out into the world, doing the work of Batman even in the actual absence of Batman.   Many people “know” Kanye via his body of work and his carefully sculpted public persona – a persona so information rich and media saturated that it can spawn its own meta-narratives.  Kanye West is the puppet of the Illuminati, and we can prove it!  He’s brilliant!  He’s insane!  He’s…  He’s a story.  The Kanye that 99% of the people reading this know is a story about a man who makes music – a narrative crafted largely BY the man who makes that music.  Its is a story with granularity and richness enough to allow many points of entry and engagement, spin-offs, theories and supposition.    The Kanye West we “know” is a prosthetic identity – an interface program that uses media as its computational substrate that exists between “us” the audience and the “real” Kanye (and his PR team) who operate the prosthetic.

That’s all well and good, but we don’t have access to that particular interface.  You and I, reading this, can’t “jack in” to Kanye West in the same way that say, someone in the fictional DC Universe could jack into “Batman” right?  Yes and no.  Kanye’s media identity isn’t keyed in such a way as you and I could start producing ideologically-aligned art as “Kanye West” but that sort of closed system is not a universal trait of prosthetic identities.   There’s the film version of Alan Moore’s V for Vendetta and the Anonymous movement/open source prosthetic identity that it inspired as well as other examples of open and accessible identities such as Luther Blissett, Buddha and even  Captain Swing – the open source figurehead of the Swing riots in rual England in the 1830′s.

But a lot of those historical open identities didn’t have the media saturation and complexity to really operate with the degree of pseudo-independence that contemporary prosthetic identities operate with.  Closer to the mark we have the Living God of Partying:  Andrew W.K. who may or may not be a persona-by-committee.  But you or I can’t just start being “Andrew W.K.” without soon having his lawyers carving out our chest cavities and making comfortable homes there.  Maybe, if the rumors are true that superstar street artist Banksy is actually the result of one or more art collectives, that’d be closer still.

Failing to find a high-profile, complex, media-enriched, identity prosthetic accessible to most of us,  we move to the things we DO have available – the prosthetic identities many of us have access to in the form of social media.  I hate writing about Facebook.  I really do.  But in this case it’s pretty applicable – being one of the most direct and efficient means I have at my disposal to create an identity prosthetic and use it to explore the environment semi-autonomously.

The Kevin Lovelace (not my birth name) on Facebook is the result of  my entering in lots of data – both in the form of straight data-entry as well as pictures, postings, updates, likes and dislikes and connections.  It’s not me, but a reflection of myself – an extension of the data cloud and strange loops that make up “me”.  However, after it acquired a certain mass of information it began to function with a shambling form of semi-autonomy.  I can walk away from my digital life for a week and come in to discover it has acquired more information, it has tried to find people I would like to talk to and things I would like to know about.  It has even – in its own way – started conversations for me.   I’ll log into Facebook and find that someone wants to talk to me about something and the conversation has already bypassed the introduction and setup because the mass of information available is complex enough and the algorithms that organize it are smart enough that in essence my Facebook profile has started the conversation for me.   For better or worse, my Facebook profile is an incredibly limited smart agent modeled after myself and sent out in the world to generate connections and have knowledge of them on my behalf.  Via Facebook, I have cloned myself… extremely imperfectly.

This is what social media does – it democratizes the process by which Kanye West becomes a cyborg at play in the fields of the media and gives it to anyone who has the time and computer access.  Social media platforms create a more engaging  agent than just blogging or writing or videoblogging or any single-method means of broadcasting the self because the image they create is jagged and full of holes and mini-narratives and angles of entry and engagement.  It’s complex and messy and that’s why its so frighteningly effective.  No, we can’t be “Kayne West”, but we can make our own hyper-complex media homunculi and send them out to make friends on our behalf.  Like attention-starved, developmentally-challenged Huginns and Muninns our Facebook profiles fly out into the media landscape and bring us back wisdom.  Or Farmville.  Or dating website ads.  It’s not a perfect system by any stretch of the imagination.

So, to bring things back to Batman – if Bruce Wayne has turned the identity of Batman into a Kanye West-ian prosthetic identity – something that can enact change in its media environment and engage others simply due to its narrative structure where does that leave us?  The statement that we can all “be” Batman is hyperbole, right?  We can’t “be” Kanye, we can’t “be” Gaga and we can’t “be” Batman.

But what if we could?

“I will become a bat.”

(To be continued…)

Late 19th/Early20thC Prosthetic Arm

Posted by on August 30th, 2010

From the UK’s Science Museum’s History of Medicine:

Made from steel and brass, this unusual prosthetic arm articulates in a number of ways. The elbow joint can be moved by releasing a spring, whereas the top joint of the wrist allows a degree of rotation and an up-and-down motion. The fingers can also curl up and straighten out. The leather upper arm piece is used to fix the prosthesis to the remaining upper arm. The rather sinister appearance of the hand suggests the wearer may have disguised it with a glove. Among the most common causes of amputation throughout the 1800s were injuries received as a result of warfare.

via Warlach & Commuter Dirge

Pimp My Gimp

Posted by on August 25th, 2010

In happy news, it seems the returning vets from OS wars are owning their prostheses; far from hiding them, they are doing everything to ‘pimp them out’.

Which this Doonesbury strip captures:

(Click thru for higher rez)

This via Rob ‘Eyeborg’ Spence, who is seeking a suitable female volunteer to create a real-life Cherry Darling from Death Proof.

The X2 Prosthetic Knee

Posted by on August 19th, 2010

From the New York Times comes news of the X2:

…a prosthetic knee loaded with microprocessors, sensors and even a gyroscope that gives amputees more freedom of movement, and better balance, than previous prostheses, veterans affairs officials say. It is smaller, lighter and has a longer-lasting battery (up to four days) than other widely used prostheses.

…built by Otto Bock HealthCare, the same company that builds one of the most advanced prosthetic legs available, the C-leg. Both units use microprocessors and sensors to calculate and control movement, but the X2 also includes a gyroscope and accelerometer, Mr. Miller said. Those devices convey more detailed information about the movement and speed of the leg, enabling microprocessors to determine whether a person is, say, taking a small step up a stair versus hopping over a large obstacle.

With the X2, users should be able to step backward without stumbling or ride a bike without having the knee lock — potential problems with earlier prosthetics, Dr. Miller said.

“They can more closely mimic the natural gait pattern,” he said.

via AnthroPunk