Bionic Man, Almost

Another inspiring speaker at PopTech was Todd Kuiken (pronounced kyken), Director of the Neural Engineering Center for Artificial Limbs at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago. Todd's working on making prosthetic limbs work more like real limbs by taking nerve endings and growing them into chest muscles to allow the limbs to behave in a more human fashion. Most mechanical limbs only operate in one dimension at a time. Todd's mechanical arms can operate like a real arm. Two problems: They're heavy. And slow. And so they're not quite ready for prime time.

But as Jesse Sullivan says, "The Wright brothers' first flight didn't go that far, either." Jesse is one of Todd's research patients. He was a lineman who lost both arms at the shoulders when he touched a 7200 volt power line. The guy is an inspiration. Very funny. He's from Tennessee, and when Dr. Kuiken mentioned that one of his other research subjects was from the same state, Jesse replied, "I guess we're just accident prone there." More about Jesse and his work with Dr. Kuiken is here.