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Cambridge Bio-Augmentation Systems (CBAS), located in Cambridge, England, aims to solve the socket problem for good with digital technology. Its solution: an innovation called the Prosthetic Interface Device (PID), which founders Oliver Armitage and Emil Hewage describe as a kind of USB port for the body. Creating a standardized connection between an artificial limb and the body, the PID is surgically implanted at the injury site and a prosthetic limb with a matching connector is plugged directly into it. This revolutionary device is what results when entrepreneurs, surgeons, clinicians and patients collaborate using applied materials, machine learning and neuroscience. Currently in pre-clinical trials, the PID has a projected market release in 2018.
“If you offered me an arm and a leg, now, I wouldn't want it”
Current sockets pose a number of problems. The fit must be so precise that it continually has to be adjusted, and if a patient gains or loses weight, the socket will need to be refitted or replaced. Even changes in temperature can be enough to noticeably change a socket’s fit. Most patients need a new one every year or two, and because it presses against the skin, a socket can easily cause inflammation, infection and other problems.
CBAS’s device eliminates these problems, drastically improving a patient’s quality of life. Instead of hugging the exterior of the body, the PID connects directly to the skeletal system. This means that the skeleton (not soft tissue, which can easily be damaged or injured) bears the weight of the artificial limb. Connecting to bone also changes the way that the body relates to a replacement limb.
There’s a financial benefit as well. The existing socket-based system for attaching prosthetic limbs to the body is hugely expensive. Every single socket must be custom made and adjusted repeatedly until the fit is perfect. “It’s like someone’s trying to hand-make you some shoes, but they’re always painful, and you’re going to have to keep redoing the process,” explains Hewage.
The advantages of a standardised connection between the body and an artificial limb go far beyond convenience and cost savings. Thanks to some amazing advancements in robotics technology over the past few years, new high-tech bionic limbs can be controlled by patients’ minds (just like a natural limb). The PID can connect with these robotic arms or legs, creating a simple electric connection between the body’s nervous system and the artificial limb.
“It’s not just a standard mechanical connection, it’s a standard electrical connection,” says Oliver. “In order for the mass population of amputees to be able to have access to neutrally-controlled devices, you need a standardised way of communicating with that prostheses. With a PID, the interface between the biology and the engineering has already been done by our product.”