Human Augmentation Makes List Of 2020 Strategic Techs: Page 2 of 2

Check out this timeline that shows the incredible progression of modern robotic-based human prosthetic augmentation from the 1950s to today.

Timeline: Modern Prosthetics

1954 – The first silicon transistor is fabricated by Morris Tanenbaum at Bell Labs but Texas Instruments' engineers build and market the first commercial devices. The transistor is the building blocks of modern robotics.

1956 – The modern robotics industry really started when George Devol and Joseph Engelberger formed the world’s first robotics company, Unimation, offering the very first industrial robot. 

1960 - Russians and Americans create the first functional moving prosthetic arm. 

Image source: Ottobock

1997 – One of the first microprocessor-controlled prosthetic knees (from Ottobock) became available for people with above-knee amputations. These microprocessor knees use pressure sensors to determine the force applied to the missing limbs during walking. These knees mimic the functionality of a normal person’s gait. Also, carbon fiber was first used to provide a more life-like material to robotic limbs. 

2006 - In this year, Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) began a multi-year funded program to create neutrally controlled artificial limbs. Part of the funding was for the “Revolutionizing Prosthetics” program. The goal of this program was to “address these challenges by restoring near-natural hand and arm control to people living with the loss of an upper limb.” 

2007 - Marine Lance Cpl. Joshua Bleill received two artificial legs fitted with Bluetooth devices, which communicate to regulate stride, pressure and speed in the prosthetic legs. Programmable software could be used to adjust the gait to the needs of different patients. 

In this year, the i-Limb hand debuted in the United Kingdom. This robotic prosthetic uses intensive myoelectric technology in which muscle sensors are placed against the skin at the site of the amputation. Electric signals generated by these muscles are used to control a microprocessor within the prosthetic. This technology enables greater controller in missing digits, allowing user to pick up coins and other small objects. 

2013: 3-D printing technology was used to produce a prosthetic hand for a 5 year old boy, born without fingers on one hand. 

2015: Johns Hopkins University developed a robotic arm with, “26 joints that can curl up 45 pounds and is controlled by a person’s mind just like a regular arm.” 

2016: Prosthetic skin is part of ongoing research at Stanford University and the Palo Alto Research centers. This skin simulates the feeling of touch in a lost limb by sending pressure sensations to a living brain cell. The work takes a big step toward adding a sense of touch to prosthetic limbs. 

Image source: DARPA

2016 - “LUKE” or Life Under Kinetic Evolution is a prosthetic arm that enable dexterous arm and hand movement with grip force feedback. It is a battery powered hand and arm in which a variety of inputs are used to control multiple joints. The technology features wireless signals from sensors worn on the user’s feet. LUKE is part of DARPA’s Revolutionizing Prosthetics program

Also, DARPA’s Neural Engineering System Design (NESD) seeks proposals to advance the research of biocompatible neural implants to enable two-way communication between the human brain and a computer.  

2017 – Imec, a leading Flemish nano-electronics and digital technology R&D organization, fabricated a prototype implantable chip that aims to give patients more intuitive control over their arm prosthetics. The thin-silicon chip is a world’s first for electrode density and was developed in collaboration with researchers at the University of Florida, as part of the IMPRESS project funded by the DARPA’s HAPTIX program to create a closed-loop system for future-generation haptic prosthetics technology.




John Blyler is a Design News senior editor, covering the electronics and advanced manufacturing spaces. With a BS in Engineering Physics and an MS in Electrical Engineering, he has years of hardware-software-network systems experience as an editor and engineer within the advanced manufacturing, IoT and semiconductor industries. John has co-authored books related to system engineering and electronics for IEEE, Wiley, and Elsevier. 

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