Robotics has been a field of great interest to prosthetists and orthotists for a long time. The expertise we had was tapped by animatronic specialists for creations and props for movies. Television gave us the Six Million Dollar Man as a 1970s vision of blending human function and machine technology. It was all pretty much fantasy, but when we introduced ourselves and our profession to others, we were invariably questioned, “Can you really do that?” We might try to explain myoelectric arms and hydraulic knees, but secretly, we dreamed we could do so much more.
Now, a rising tide of robotics technology is becoming a tsunami. When Google purchases a robotics engineering leader such as Boston Dynamics, it seems that we are all in for seeing more robots, doing more, all the time. As robots become more capable, clinical applications of related technologies become more plausible. I believe that the skill sets of prosthetists and orthotists will be increasingly needed by the new technology. Interfacing robotic orthoses and prostheses to the human body will remain a delicate and highly variable task that we are superbly equipped to undertake. Eventually, some of us will almost certainly become clinical roboticists.
How long will it be before we look at a new patient and think, “… better… stronger… faster?”
David A. Boone, CP, MPH, PhD
Journal of Prosthetics and Orthotics