Cheaper, faster, stronger-- those are the keys to a revolution in the research on prosthetics out at Oak Ridge National Lab.
"Seeing what we are able to do today, I would have said, 'we're 20 years away' five years ago," said Dr. Lonnie Love who is the group leader of the Automation Robotics and Manufacturing Group at ORNL.
Surrounded by titanium hands and other artificial limbs inside an expansive lab holding million dollar fabrication machines, Dr. Love explained some veterans are relying on prosthetics that have changed very little since World War II.
"I think in another five years there's going to be a sea-change in how we design, control, and build prosthetic devices," said the scientist who by trade is a mechanical engineer.
Dr. Love noted the military, less than a decade ago, started investing millions of dollars in research and development tied to prosthetics. The number of returning wounded from wars in the Middle East spurred the investment. And now Dr. Love says the manufacturing side of the industry is beginning to see leaps in the technology.
Cost remains a big issue. Advance prosthetics can run from 100 to 200 thousand dollars.
The ORNL scientist we spoke to suggests the goal is to bring that cost down to 20 or 30 thousand dollars and increase the number of people who benefit from the technology.