Being a double amputee, arm as well as leg, means I have the opportunity to reflect on how we use our bodies in two ways. Feet must give me stability, control and power, and hands must give me fine muscular control. My goal is to find a way in which I can interface with technology with such low cognitive burden and finesse as it to be considered natural rather than using a piece of external assistive equipment.
For me, part of natural interaction with artificial body parts is an acceptance of the appearance of technology when replacing the human body, unapologetically so. Although the human arm is an amazing piece of biological equipment which is pretty much currently unmatched, I believe that with technology we should take the opportunity to customise our bodies and control our own future image.
I’m currently involved in the phantom limb project which aims to create a limb which challenges the idea for what a body part can be. We are using high-tech materials used in aerospace and Formula One cars to create my ‘skin’, incorporating microprocessors, electronics and lighting to enhance the arm. The shape and form was inspired by a science-fiction universe of a videogame, as well as my own most loved sci-fi imagery from all over the internet.
In this project we found ourselves working against the barrier between skin and machine, finding the difficulties in linking clever technology to a tiny arm stump which can no longer provide any input. For me the project raises the issue of connecting brain to computer, which is something that is incredibly imperfect in its current state. On the side of creating technological artificial limbs we need a good, reliable neural interface which allows the brain to have fine muscular control over things like fingers, whilst getting feedback on touch and force, body parts, back into us.
This is partially due to the advent of 3D printing which has inspired technological advances in material science, not only in plastic or metal but also in printing biological materials. Additionally, we also are at a point where we can control our own biology using gene therapies, adding features which mother nature didn’t deem necessary during our evolution, or to add something to mitigate against unfortunate diseases.
With stem cells or induced pluripotent cells from other sources, we are able to grow and layer tissues and tell our biology to differentiate using cytokines, chemical signals, to result in things that look similar in form to human ears. If we can all push for the continual and increased funding for scientific research in these fields, then the fate of injured humans, and even ‘the average Joe’ in the future would be altered in a dramatic and meaningful way.