Todd Kuiken Gives TED Talk on Bionic Arms

Todd Kuiken, professor of biomedical engineering at McCormick and of physical medicine and rehabilitation at the Feinberg School of Medicine, recently gave a TED talk about his creation of a prosthetic arm that reads nerve impulses and provides the user with touch feedback.

Using an innovative procedure called targeted reinnervation surgery, Kuiken, who is the director of the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago’s Neural Engineering Center for Artificial Limbs, grafted the nerve endings that once went into an amputee’s limb onto the amputee’s pectoral muscle.

Once the nerve endings grew into their new location, Kuiken and his team could use sensors to read the impulses of the nerve to move a prosthetic limb. Unexpectedly, these nerve endings were also able to receive input, meaning that new prosthetic devices could actually provide touch sensation to the user as a real limb would.

Kuiken, who received his PhD in biomedical engineering from Northwestern, works with Ed Colgate, Allen K. and Johnnie Cordell Breed Senior Professor in Design, and Michael Peshkin, professor of mechanical engineering, using their research in haptics—tactile feedback technology that uses touch as an interface—to give the arm “touch feedback” capabilities.

The talk occurred at TED Global in Edinburgh, Scotland in July. TED is a nonprofit devoted to ideas worth spreading. It started out in 1984 as a conference bringing together people from three worlds: technology, entertainment, and design. Its TED Talks are available online with the goal of giving everyone on-demand access to the world's most inspiring voices.