Researcher Awarded with Popular Mechanics 2007 Breakthrough Award - Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago

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RIC in the News

Published on October 17, 2007

RIC Researcher Richard F. ff. Weir, PhD, Awarded Popular Mechanics 2007 Breakthrough Award

JHUAPL Revolutionizing Prosthetics 2009 Team Honored for Design of Proto 2

Dr. Richard F. ff. Weir

The Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago (RIC), ranked the “#1 Rehabilitation Hospital in America,[1]” announced today that research scientist Richard F. ff. Weir, Ph.D, the as part of the Revolutionizing Prosthetics 2009 (RP2009) team led by John Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (JHUAPL), was awarded the POPULAR MECHANICS 2007 Breakthrough Innovator Award for the design of the Proto 2 myoelectric arm.

Weir and his team at the RIC BioMechatronics Development Laboratory developed the “intrinsic” hand system with Otto Bock based in Vienna and JHUAPL. It includes 18 motors enclosed within the hand and an additional three motors in the wrist, allowing 18 different degrees of freedom in the hand and fingers alone. This functionality allows a patient to move individual fingers and control a variety of hand grasp patterns. Now, patients wearing the arm are able to use great control that allows them to pick-up pennies off a table or wave using all of the mechanical fingers.

"RIC is proud to deliver practical, functional research that has direct applicability to patients today," said Elliot Roth, M.D., Chief Academic Officer of RIC. "The talented collaboration between Drs. Weir and Kuiken at RIC is making a difference in the lives of amputees and will redefine the standard prosthetic care for future amputees worldwide."

Building the World's Best Prosthetic Arm

The Proto 2 prosthetic arm, built by more than 35 collaborators for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Revolutionizing Prosthetics program, includes 27 degrees of movement and allows users to feel via sensors in the fingertips and palm.

"It has been a great honor to be a part of this cutting-edge prosthesis design initiative and to have been able to collaborate with such a skilled team," said Weir, director of the BioMechatronics Development Laboratory at RIC. "I am looking forward to integrating our IMES devices into the control of these advanced arm systems. I believe they will greatly enhance the functional efficiency and use of these prosthetics."

Weir and his laboratory have developed an Injectable MyoElectric Sensor (IMES) that will be used as part of the control for future patients. The IMES are small injectable or surgically implantable sensors, about the size of a long grain of rice, that are used to measure muscle activity at the source, providing greater signal isolation and therefore better performance, verses surface electrodes on the skin that were used during testing of the first prototype. Dr. Weir has been working on developing the IMES devices over the past four years. They are currently being tested in animals with the goal of using them with people.

Advancing the Legacy of Discovery

Currently, the advanced degree of natural control is enabled by Targeted Muscle Reinnervation (TMR), a technique pioneered by Dr. Todd Kuiken, director of the RIC Neural Engineering Center for Bionic Medicine, which involves the transfer of residual nerves from an amputated limb to unused muscle regions in appropriate proximity to the injury.

Through this unique technique, RIC patients are able to control these advanced prosthetic arm simply by thinking about it. The clinical trials have been conducted with patients who have undergone the TMR procedure at RIC.

Led by Stuart Harshbarger at JHUAPL, the RP 2009 team is working to deliver the most advanced medical and rehabilitative technologies for military personnel injured in the line of duty as part of the DARPA Revolutionizing Prosthetics project.

"The Breakthrough Awards were created to honor ideas and innovations that not only push the envelope of what technology and engineering can accomplish, but also help improve the world on a broader scale," said James Meigs, editor-in-chief of POPULAR MECHANICS. We are especially excited to see this year's winners' imaginative and important contributions to the fields of environmental conservation, third-world development, engineering, medicine, communication, computing and transportation.

Following are the winners of the 2007 POPULAR MECHANICS Breakthrough Awards:

Breakthrough Leadership Award

  • Amory B. Lovins, Co-founder, Rocky Mountain Institute, Energy Visionary: Lovins' vision of stamping out industrial inefficiency and conserving natural resources even while improving our quality of life has won some important attention from 19 heads of state and more than 80 Fortune 500 companies to be exact. Even more exciting, his pragmatic ideas are increasingly leading to changes in the real world like doubling the fuel efficiency of Wal-Mart's truck fleet and revamping Texas Instruments' chip-fabrication plant to drastically slash energy and water usage.

Next Generation Award

  • Kelydra Elizabeth Welcker: While in high school, Welcker used hand-me-down chemistry equipment in a makeshift lab to create a filter that removed an industrial pollutant from the waters of her hometown. Now a college freshman, she hopes to work with her local utility company to scale-up her filtering method and treat the water throughout her community.

Breakthrough Innovator Awards: Celebrating Innovation in Science and Technology

  • Hod Lipson, professor of mechanical engineering, Evan Malone and Dan Periard, graduate students, Cornell University : Rapid-prototyping fabrication machines, or "fabbers," can essentially "print" 3D objects of any shape; but have long been relegated to pricey high-tech labs. Lipson, Malone and Periard created a low-priced, open-source fabber, putting the power to innovate in the hands of the people. The result: home enthusiasts have created everything from flashlights to iPod skins, and they're just getting started.
  • Farhan Gandhi, professor of aerospace engineering, The Penn State University, solved a longstanding puzzle of the engineering world: how to create a helicopter rotor blade that changes length while in flight, allowing it to easily adapt to different tasks.
  • Jefferson Y. Han, Perceptive Pixel, is a real leader in multitouch computing -- inputting information directly into a computer using touch, rather than a keyboard, buttons, or a mouse. His 8-ft. monitor and applications allow people to work together, reaching new levels of creativity and collaboration.
  • Shawn Frayne, Humdinger Wind Energy, recognized the need for small-scale wind power to juice the lamps and radios in the homes of the rural poor. So he created the Windbelt -- a scalable, affordable device that is 10 times as efficient as the best microturbines. Frayne now hopes to fund third-world distribution of his Windbelt with revenue from first-world applications.
  • Stuart Harshbarger, The Johns Hopkins University , and the Revolutionizing Prosthetics 2009 team: Most myoelectric prosthetic arms move in three ways -- the elbows bend, the wrists rotate, and the hands clamp shut. In contrast, the Proto 2, created by Harshbarger and team, allows for 27 different kinds of movement, and, most amazingly, allows users to feel, via sensors in the fingertips and palm.
  • Ashok Gadgil and Christina Galitsky, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, traveled to Darfur to meet with refugees and understand their cooking needs. When they returned to their lab, they created a high-efficiency stove made of inexpensive sheet metal that uses 55 to 75 percent less wood than a cooking fire, slashing the time refugees need to spend in heightened danger from violent attack.

About the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago

The Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago (RIC) was founded in 1954 with a vision to make a difference in the lives for people with disabilities. RIC has been designated the "#1 Rehabilitation Hospital in America" by U.S. News & World Report every year since 1991. RIC treats a range of conditions, from the complex such as stroke, traumatic brain and spinal cord injuries, to the more common such as arthritis, chronic pain and sports injuries. RIC's world-class care can be attributed in part to its innovative research, particularly in the areas of bionic medicine, robotics, neural interface, pain and outcomes. RIC operates a 165-bed, flagship hospital in downtown Chicago , as well as a network of 30 sites of care located throughout the city and surrounding suburbs that provide day rehabilitation and outpatient services. RIC also maintains strategic alliances with other leading healthcare providers throughout the state of Illinois and north central Indiana . For more information, visit

About Popular Mechanics ( is a magazine that helps readers master the modern world. In addition to providing hands-on coverage of personal technology, cars and home improvement, PM reports in depth on the science and technology behind major issues -- including such stories as disaster planning, hydrogen fuel and other energy alternatives, military expenditures, and digital privacy. Each month, nearly 9 million readers turn for advice and news to the magazine's editors and contributors, including the likes of Jay Leno, astronauts Buzz Aldrin and Tom Jones, and roboticist Daniel H. Wilson. In addition to its U.S. flagship, Popular Mechanics publishes 12 editions around the world. Popular Mechanics is published by Hearst Magazines, a unit of Hearst Corporation ( and one of the world's largest publishers of monthly magazines, with nearly 200 editions around the world, including 19 U.S. titles and 20 magazines in the United Kingdom, published through its wholly owned subsidiary, The National Magazine Company Limited. Hearst reaches more adults than any other publisher of monthly magazines (74.1 million total adults, according to MRI, spring 07).

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[1] U.S. News & World Report has ranked the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago as the #1 Rehabilitation Hospital in America every year since 1991.

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