Prosthetic limbs have been around for centuries, but the prosthetics of today don’t look like those from your grandfather’s day.
These days limbs can be bionic, almost seamlessly blending in with their wearer in form and function. Limbs can incorporate electronic components that allow the limb to respond to their wearers similar to a biological limb. They can be shaped for different purposes or customised to their wearers specifications.
It is task enough to make artificial legs that can walk naturally or arms that can grasp, but what happens when their wearer wants those limbs to be able to swim, climb, dance, or surf?
We sought out some of today’s most amazing athletes who are pushing the idea of what it means to mix the biological with the technological and take their sports to new limits.
There are certain people who have become famous for taking prosthetics to the next level. In 1996, Aimee Mullins was the first amputee to compete on an NCAA track team, setting multiple world records.
Running prosthetics, like the ones Mullins used and the ones seen below, take the shape of a cheetah leg. They have no heel and can store and release energy like a spring. But for other athletes, it is not always about putting one foot in front of the other.
Here, Amy Purdy of the U.S. Paralympic snowboard team changes out her everyday prosthetic legs for her snowboarding ones.
While her snowboarding prosthetics are actually just adapted from ones for walking, she is able to adjust the ankle height and suspension. She also wears men's size 11 because the larger size gives her more control over the board.
For others, like Hugh Herr, losing a limb became a 'call to arms' to develop new bionic technologies.
Herr, a top climber who lost his legs to frostbite in the 1980s, realised his lower limbs were now a 'blank slate' that could be specialised beyond biology. He built feet with spikes for ice climbing and very narrow ones that could fit in tiny cracks for rock climbing.
He is now head of the biomechatronics research group at the MIT Media Lab, which melds biology and design.
Here, Radocy wears a specialised weight lifting attachment from his high-performance prosthetics company, TRS Inc.
For other athletes, pushing the boundary of prosthetics means taking their new limb where their wearers were told it was never meant to go.
Surfer and photographer Mike Coots, who lost his leg in a shark attack, had to figure out the right flexibility for his prosthetic ankle.
Too stiff and he wouldn't be able to bend down when the wave went over him. Too flexible and he wouldn't have enough control of the board on certain moves.
Just this July, Coots tried out a new foot designed especially for balancing by Ossur. He took this photo on his first day out with it, and it 'felt really good!' he told Business Insider in an email.
Whether swimming, running, surfing, or dancing, the new bionics are making one thing inspiringly clear. 'Nature is driving design -- design is also driving nature,' Herr said in a TED talk.
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