The Utah Myoelectric Arm became available in 1981 and shortly thereafter, I got one. It cost $27,000! Thankfully, my insurance covered most of it. The arm had an electric elbow and an electric hand, both powered by rechargeable battery packs. It was like Back to the Future.
My existing upper arm slid into a socket that was held on by suction. Within the socket were electrodes, strategically placed to pick up signals from muscle contractions. When I flexed my front muscle, the elbow raised the forearm. When I flexed my back muscle, the elbow lowered the forearm. When I flexed the front and back muscles simultaneously, the elbow locked in its present position. (Confused yet? Hang on. There’s more.) Once the elbow locked, I flexed the front muscle to open the hand and the back muscle to close the hand. It took serious concentration and lots of practice. (I challenge you to try it. See if you can flex your front and back upper arm muscles separately.)
Because the arm was in the early stages of development, it had some issues. It was extremely heavy, the electric motors were loud, the battery packs ran down quickly, and the elbow and hand movements were slow. Also, I didn’t always have full control over the movements. Let me try to explain…When a person bends over to pick something up, she doesn’t let her arms fall freely forward; she holds them back using her upper arm muscles. Since my upper arm muscles were connected to electrodes, my hand would start opening and closing. On another occasion, my hand began operating when I walked under some power lines. That lack of control was the biggest issue for me. After many months of effort, I chose to go back to a cable-operated arm.
Huge advancements have been made in the 30 years following my myoelectric arm. There is now a Utah Arm 2 and a Utah Arm 3 (U2 and U3, for short). Elbows and hands operate via tiny microcomputers. Electric wrists rotate 360 degrees. You can even get an arm that has a built-in iPod Shuffle with stereo speakers! I really need one of those. I wonder if my insurance company would go for it.
With your well-muscled arm and your grip of steel—nobody trifles with you! Psalm 89:13 (MSG)