The subject of robotics has long fascinated the scientific community and the general public. Back in the 1970's, television viewers began to imagine the possibilities when ABC created the Six Million Dollar Man. Astronaut Steve Austin crashes in a horrific test flight and appears to be good as dead. On a whim, his boss decides to try a new fangled technology called bionics on him. The results make him a secret weapon against bad guys throughout the world. It was a fantasy then, but maybe not so much of one now.
That is because researchers at the University of Arizona have developed what they believe to be the 'most real' robotic legs yet. When they say real, they don't mean in terms of some artificial skin that they have covered a robot skeleton with. They have not only created robotic legs, but more importantly, manufactured a nerve like system that produces the muscle signals that control walking in humans.
A BBC article noted that the University of Arizona scientists were able to, "replicate the central pattern generator (CPG) - a nerve cell (neuronal) network in the lumbar region of the spinal cord that generates rhythmic muscle signals. The CPG produces, and then controls, these signals by gathering information from different parts of the body involved in walking, responding to the environment. Basically, that means that they have been able to simulate what allows people to be able to walk without thinking about it.
What makes this discovery so interesting is that it gives the researchers insight into two different areas. These new robotic legs ans its accompanying central pattern generator give the scientists a view into what a baby most likely experiences when they begin the process of learning to walk. They start out with a simple system, which these researchers believe that they have now copied is some respects. This discovery is doubly important because it also might give them insight into working with patients will spinal cord injuries and paralysis. With their discovery, they will look into experimenting with this type of stimulation shortly after the injury, in hopes of increasing the chance that a patient might regain mobility.
It is an exciting discovery and one that might help people in arenas other than spinal injuries. It could also help in the areas of research with other nervous system ailments. Depending on testing at different levels of stimulation's, it could lead to a host of helpful discoveries in many areas of the medical profession.