The brains behind a blade runner

Sun Sep 28, 2008 9:07pm EDT
Email This Article |
Share This Article
  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
  • Twitter
| Print This Article | Single Page
[-] Text [+]

By Adam Cox

REYKJAVIK (Reuters) - If it sounds far-fetched for a man without lower legs to become one of the fastest runners on the planet, how about typing by just thinking the words or staying sporty well into old age?

Such prospects motivate work at Ossur, the Icelandic group behind the prosthetics that vaulted double-amputee Oscar Pistorius into the limelight with his bid to compete in the Beijing Olympics.

Besides producing carefully adapted artificial limbs to change the lives of disabled people, the world's only major listed prosthetics maker is also looking ahead to the day when robotics and neuroscience can change those of many more.

"What we should do is compare to the real body," Ossur's Chief Executive Jon Sigurdsson told Reuters. "And then we see that there is a long way to go. It is a very humbling experience to try to imitate God."

With market capitalization of about $431 million, the company is small in the field of medical equipment, but positioned for growth.

Hilmar Janusson, its head of technology, envisions a day when prostheses can be controlled by our nerves rather than by systems such as the computer keyboard.

What is needed -- Janusson almost makes it sound easy -- is a grasp of the signals running through our nervous system. "As soon as we start to understand, and basically de-code it into something, then things will happen very, very quickly," he said.

It's a goal to date pursued in the academic world. In May, the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine reported how a monkey wired up with microelectrodes could use brainpower to direct a robotic arm to pluck a marshmallow from a skewer and stuff it into its mouth.   Continued...

<p>South African double amputee athlete Oscar Pistorius waits for the start of the men's 400 metres race event at the Athletics International Meeting "Notturna di Milano" in Milan July 2, 2008. REUTERS/Alessandro Garofalo</p>