This beautiful series of photographs from the BBC shows how people have created artificial limbs as far back as ancient Egypt. There’s a poignant beauty to many of these creations, particularly the steel and brass arm pictured above, which dates from some time between 1840 and 1940.
From the past, we turn to two visions of the future. First, here’s Oscar Pistorius, born without tibia bones, and equipped with prosthetic legs so efficient that he was initially disqualified from the running in the 2008 Olympics because the IAAF thought his carbon-fiber limbs offered an unfair advantage.
Next, we have Pierpaolo Petruzziello, who lost his arm in an accident. As part of the LifeHand project, he had four electrodes implanted into the nervous system of his left arm for one month. Using only his thoughts, he was eventually able move the fingers on a robotic hand.
Three years after that experiment, researchers are still struggling to make thought-controlled prosthetics a practical reality. DARPA continues to fund various projects that might one day restore limbs to wounded veterans, but a reliable solution remains elusive. No doubt man’s ingenuity will keep creating new and better ways to replace what illness and trauma take away, but the mind-machine interface is proving tougher to crack than some expected.