Physiatrist and engineer Todd Kuiken is building a prosthetic arm that connects with the human nervous system — improving motion, control and even feeling. Onstage, patient Amanda Kitts helps demonstrate this next-gen robotic arm.

Why you should listen:

As Dean Kamen said at TED2007, the design of the prosthetic arm hadn’t really been updated since the Civil War — basically “a stick and a hook.” But at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, physiatrist Todd Kuiken is building new arms and hands that are wired into the nervous system and can be controlled by the same impulses from the brain that once controlled flesh and blood.

He said: “From an engineering standpoint, this is the greatest challenge one can imagine: trying to restore the most incredible machine in the universe.”

Business Week said, “His dual interests turned out to be critical, allowing him to succeed where a narrowly focused engineer or doctor would have come up short.”

Who is he:

Kuiken’s training — as both a physician and an engineer — helps him see both sides of this complex problem. A technology called targeted muscle reinnervation uses nerves remaining after an amputation to control an artificial limb, linking brain impulses to a computer in the prosthesis that directs motors to move the limb. An unexpected effect in some patients: not only can they move their new limb, they can feel with it.


  1. What are the behavioral and emotional consequences of amputation?
  1. Describe the progress of Jesse Sullivan.
  1. What was Amanda Kitts’ experience?
  1. What mechanical, electrical, and electronic improvements have occurred in the past one hundred years?
  1. Why was it a big breakthrough to develop a device that would permit the patient to feel sensation?
  1. 6. What is in the future for restoration after amputation, physical disability.

A prosthetic arm that “feels” with Todd Kuiken


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