3 examples of what prosthetics used to be and a look into the future in motion.
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"I was just in New York for my birthday last weekend, and it was the first time where I consistently wore my hand for like ten hours a day for five days straight," said Vikram Pandit.

Vikram is an operations manager in his mid-20s, and he has a congenital amputation. He's been wearing a prosthesis more or less since he was born. And Vikram's not alone: Almost 2 million people are missing a limb in the United States, whether it's from illness, trauma, or something they were born with. For many of these people, prosthetics can be game changing.


Humans have actually been using prosthetics for thousands of years.

The Roman general Marcus Sergius was said to have an iron hand as long ago as the Second Punic War in the 200s B.C. But for most of time, the prosthetics have been bulky, rough things.

There's some amazing research coming down the line that could make future generations of prosthetics extra useful to amputees.

GIF from SWNS TV/YouTube.

Basically, prosthetic limbs aren't just hunks of metal and plastic anymore. By adding motors, batteries, and computer processors, these limbs are rocketing out of the past and into the future.

To get some perspective on how far humans have come in prosthetic technology, check out these big comparisons.

1. This crude thing is a 19th century prosthetic leg.

A wooden leg worn by Gen. Józef Sowiński circa mid-1800s. Image from Halibutt/Wikimedia Commons.

But this poem of plastic and grace is its 21st century cousin.

GIF from Vanderbilt University/YouTube.

Whereas old prosthetics were often little more than metal or plastic extensions of a limb, researchers are now developing ones that can move on their own using motors and battery packs. At Vanderbilt University, researchers are even developing limbs programmed to match a person's natural gait. They can recognize when a person wants to speed up, slow down, turn, or use the stairs.

2. This cold hunk of iron is a prosthetic arm from the 1600s.

An artificial arm from circa 1600. Image from Science Museum London/Flickr.

But this 21st century experiment is in touch with its feelings.

A prosthetic fingertip can sense texture. GIF from USC Viterbi/Vimeo.

By adding different kinds of sensors, engineers can build prosthetics that feel temperature, texture, vibration, and many other senses.

Some, like SynTouch's BioTac (pictured above), can use this information to make prosthetics smarter. A touchy-feely prosthetic can intuitively tell when it's picking up something, for example, which means it can handle fragile things — like eggs — much more naturally.

“With contact detection, you think of your hand less like a tool and more like a hand,” said Vikram. (Full disclosure: Vikram is an employee of SynTouch.) "You have achieved a perfect prosthesis if you can use it without needing to divert any attention to it, just like a normal hand."

SynTouch says they're using the lessons they’ve learned from the BioTac experiment to make better, present-day solutions.

3. This lifeless thing is an artificial arm from the 1930s.

Image from Wellcome Library, London/Wellcome Images.

But its future descendant may one day read our minds.

The arm is reading his mind! GIF from John Hopkins Medicine/YouTube.

"There's lots of people with upper limb paralysis in the U.S. and worldwide," doctoral student Guy Hotson told Upworthy.

For those people, conventional prosthetics — which work by sensing muscle twitches or nerves in the skin — might not work. "It would be great to make something that can directly tap into their neural signals and help restore their autonomy," he said.

Interestingly, Hotson was recently part of a proof-of-concept project that attempted just that. They hooked up a man with a robotic arm that could read his mind (it used a brain implant the man already had to treat epilepsy).

"After we've trained the computer, we hook it up, the neural signals stream in, and then the computer translates those neural signals into movements with the arm," said Hotson. Within a few hours, the man was able to get the arm to mirror his movements. While the man wasn't paralyzed himself (which is why you can see his own arm moving in the GIF), this suggests the technique could one day work in real cases.

More work needs to be done, of course, but the future of prosthetics is exciting and life-changing.

A lot of these innovations are more proof of concepts than commercially available devices, but they are showing us what could be possible in the coming years. Super-advanced aspirational, experimental stuff really does trickle down into real, life-changing devices sometimes. (See: wifi.)

And if in 100 years we can go from this...


A World War I prosthetic leg. Image from Thomas Quine/Flickr.

...to this...

An English rock climber using his modern prosthetic. Image from s_mestdagh/Flickr.

...then the next 100 years is certainly going to be awesome.

Courtesy of Amita Swadhin
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In 2016, Amita Swadhin, a child of two immigrant parents from India, founded Mirror Memoirs to help combat rape culture. The national storytelling and organizing project is dedicated to sharing the stories of LGBTQIA+ Black, indigenous people, and people of color who survived child sexual abuse.

"Whether or not you are a survivor, 100% of us are raised in rape culture. It's the water that we're swimming in. But just as fish don't know they are in water, because it's just the world around them that they've always been in, people (and especially those who aren't survivors) may need some help actually seeing it," they add.

"Mirror Memoirs attempts to be the dye that helps everyone understand the reality of rape culture."

Amita built the idea for Mirror Memoirs from a theater project called "Undesirable Elements: Secret Survivors" that featured their story and those of four other survivors in New York City, as well as a documentary film and educational toolkit based on the project.

"Secret Survivors had a cast that was gender, race, and age-diverse in many ways, but we had neglected to include transgender women," Amita explains. "Our goal was to help all people who want to co-create a world without child sexual abuse understand that the systems historically meant to help survivors find 'healing' and 'justice' — namely the child welfare system, policing, and prisons — are actually systems that facilitate the rape of children in oppressed communities," Amita continues. "We all have to explore tools of healing and accountability outside of these systems if we truly want to end all forms of sexual violence and rape culture."

Amita also wants Mirror Memoirs to be a place of healing for survivors that have historically been ignored or underserved by anti-violence organizations due to transphobia, homophobia, racism, xenophobia, and white supremacy.

Amita Swadhin

"Hearing survivors' stories is absolutely healing for other survivors, since child sexual abuse is a global pandemic that few people know how to talk about, let alone treat and prevent."

"Since sexual violence is an isolating event, girded by shame and stigma, understanding that you're not alone and connecting with other survivors is alchemy, transmuting isolation into intimacy and connection."

This is something that Amita knows and understands well as a survivor herself.

"My childhood included a lot of violence from my father, including rape and other forms of domestic violence," says Amita. "Mandated reporting was imposed on me when I was 13 and it was largely unhelpful since the prosecutors threatened to incarcerate my mother for 'being complicit' in the violence I experienced, even though she was also abused by my father for years."

What helped them during this time was having the support of others.

"I'm grateful to have had a loving younger sister and a few really close friends, some of whom were also surviving child sexual abuse, though we didn't know how to talk about it at the time," Amita says.

"I'm also a queer, non-binary femme person living with complex post-traumatic stress disorder, and those identities have shaped a lot of my life experiences," they continue. "I'm really lucky to have an incredible partner and network of friends and family who love me."

"These realizations put me on the path of my life's work to end this violence quite early in life," they said.

Amita wants Mirror Memoirs to help build awareness of just how pervasive rape culture is. "One in four girls and one in six boys will be raped or sexually assaulted by the age of 18," Amita explains, "and the rates are even higher for vulnerable populations, such as gender non-conforming, disabled, deaf, unhoused, and institutionalized children." By sharing their stories, they're hoping to create change.

"Listening to stories is also a powerful way to build empathy, due to the mirror neurons in people's brains. This is, in part, why the project is called Mirror Memoirs."

So far, Mirror Memoirs has created an audio archive of BIPOC LGBTQI+ child sexual abuse survivors sharing their stories of survival and resilience that includes stories from 60 survivors across 50 states. This year, they plan to record another 15 stories, specifically of transgender and nonbinary people who survived child sexual abuse in a sport-related setting, with their partner organization, Athlete Ally.

"This endeavor is in response to the more than 100 bills that have been proposed across at least 36 states in 2021 seeking to limit the rights of transgender and non-binary children to play sports and to receive gender-affirming medical care with the support of their parents and doctors," Amita says.

In 2017, Mirror Memoirs held its first gathering, which was attended by 31 people. Today, the organization is a fiscally sponsored, national nonprofit with two staff members, a board of 10 people, a leadership council of seven people, and 500 members nationally.

When the pandemic hit in 2020, they created a mutual aid fund for the LGBTQIA+ community of color and were able to raise a quarter-million dollars. They received 2,509 applications for assistance, and in the end, they decided to split the money evenly between each applicant.

While they're still using storytelling as the building block of their work, they're also engaging in policy and advocacy work, leadership development, and hosting monthly member meetings online.

For their work, Amita is one of Tory's Burch's Empowered Women. Their donation will go to Mirror Memoirs to help fund production costs for their new theater project, "Transmutation: A Ceremony," featuring four Black transgender, intersex, and non-binary women and femmes who live in California.

"I'm grateful to every single child sexual survivor who has ever disclosed their truth to me," Amita says. "I know another world is possible, and I know survivors will build it, together with all the people who love us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

This article originally appeared on 11.21.16


Photographer Katie Joy Crawford had been battling anxiety for 10 years when she decided to face it straight on by turning the camera lens on herself.

In 2015, Upworthy shared Crawford's self-portraits and our readers responded with tons of empathy. One person said, "What a wonderful way to express what words cannot." Another reader added, "I think she hit the nail right on the head. It's like a constant battle with yourself. I often feel my emotions battling each other."

So we wanted to go back and talk to the photographer directly about this soul-baring project.

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When a pet is admitted to a shelter it can be a traumatizing experience. Many are afraid of their new surroundings and are far from comfortable showing off their unique personalities. The problem is that's when many of them have their photos taken to appear in online searches.

Chewy, the pet retailer who has dedicated themselves to supporting shelters and rescues throughout the country, recognized the important work of a couple in Tampa, FL who have been taking professional photos of shelter pets to help get them adopted.

"If it's a photo of a scared animal, most people, subconsciously or even consciously, are going to skip over it," pet photographer Adam Goldberg says. "They can't visualize that dog in their home."

Adam realized the importance of quality shelter photos while working as a social media specialist for the Humane Society of Broward County in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

"The photos were taken top-down so you couldn't see the size of the pet, and the flash would create these red eyes," he recalls. "Sometimes [volunteers] would shoot the photos through the chain-link fences."

That's why Adam and his wife, Mary, have spent much of their free time over the past five years photographing over 1,200 shelter animals to show off their unique personalities to potential adoptive families. The Goldbergs' wonderful work was recently profiled by Chewy in the video above entitled, "A Day in the Life of a Shelter Pet Photographer."