This Man’s Bionic Arm Houses an Integrated Drone

Go, go, gadget arm.

bySean Evans| PUBLISHED May 19, 2016 3:52 PM
This Man’s Bionic Arm Houses an Integrated Drone

Falling under a train is utterly horrible. When it happened to James Young four years ago, he suffered collapsed lungs, a fractured skull and face, and lost his left leg and left arm. The British man was kept in a medically induced coma for two weeks while he underwent a dozen surgeries to rebuild his face and body, though his limbs were unsalvageable.

Discharged from the hospital three months later, he was given two bland, run-of-the-mill prostheses, both of which severely bothered him. Not only were they limiting in terms of capabilities—the arm had a hook for a hand—but they were painful to use. “They’re operated by straps and strings, which is uncomfortable to do on a traumatically amputated stump,” Young told British media. In a dark place, full of painkillers to numb the phantom limb pain and his depression, everything turned around when he spotted an ad by gaming company Konami, searching for an amputee interested in testing an innovative bionic prototype.

Young, a video game fanatic, applied immediately and was chosen. The arm utilizes innovative robotics and connects nerves and muscles from the shoulder into the device via the harness, allowing the signals from Young’s body and skin to register with the unit and control it. It all sounds like futuristic sci-fi, and looks like an appendage off of a Terminator unit (which is to say badass). Then again, it’s modeled and inspired by a character called Snake, an injured star from the game Metal Gear Solid.

The limb's features are countless. It’s got a laser light to help point out stuff (or perhaps mess with friends), a flashlight, a USB port near the wrist which can be used to charge anything, a built-in watch and a freaking drone, affixed to a panel on the outside of the shoulder. It’s also got built in lighting that Young can change depending on his mood. Certain panels and pieces can be fabricated with a 3D printer and added with ease. For example, Young recently fashioned a GoPro mount for it, and has also been experimenting with glow-in-the-dark panels, which really make the cyborg limb pop.

However, the best part is feeling like he’s turned the corner into getting his life back on track. The hand now moves and feels like a real one that can be controlled to pick up the tiniest of objects. He won’t miss that rudimentary hook that made him feel like an outcast. “It’s really nice to shake,” Young says.

While the unit is incredible, it’s still a prototype, which means it needs more fine-tuning and regular adjusting than not, and it does come with some drawbacks, such as a heavy weight (10 pounds) which means he needs to remove it occasionally to give his body a rest. But Young is hopeful. The next step would be to bore out some bone marrow and insert a titanium rod so that the arm slots directly into the body so the bone cells can start to integrate with it. That method is scheduled for testing only on UK military personnel with no plans for civilian testing, though when that does open up to the general public, you can be sure Young will be the first to raise his bionic hand to volunteer as a test subject.