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.

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If the past year has taught us nothing else, it's that sending love out into the world through selfless acts of kindness can have a positive ripple effect on people and communities. People all over the United States seemed to have gotten the message — 71% of those surveyed by the World Giving Index helped a stranger in need in 2020. A nonprofit survey found 90% helped others by running errands, calling, texting and sending care packages. Many people needed a boost last year in one way or another and obliging good neighbors heeded the call over and over again — and continue to make a positive impact through their actions in this new year.

Upworthy and P&G Good Everyday wanted to help keep kindness going strong, so they partnered up to create the Lead with Love Fund. The fund awards do-gooders in communities around the country with grants to help them continue on with their unique missions. Hundreds of nominations came pouring in and five winners were selected based on three criteria: the impact of action, uniqueness, and "Upworthy-ness" of their story.

Here's a look at the five winners:

Edith Ornelas, co-creator of Mariposas Collective in Memphis, Tenn.

Edith Ornelas has a deep-rooted connection to the asylum-seeking immigrant families she brings food and supplies to families in Memphis, Tenn. She was born in Jalisco, Mexico, and immigrated to the United States when she was 7 years old with her parents and sister. Edith grew up in Chicago, then moved to Memphis in 2016, where she quickly realized how few community programs existed for immigrants. Two years later, she helped create Mariposas Collective, which initially aimed to help families who had just been released from detention centers and were seeking asylum. The collective started out small but has since grown to approximately 400 volunteers.