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The Future of Cybernetics: 3D Printed Prosthetics Plus

The Concept Of Feedback

According to the famous MIT professor and father of cybernetics, Norbert Wiener (1894-1964), “intelligent behavior is the result of feedback mechanisms.” From MIT now comes one of its latest projects following in the footsteps of Wiener, which is human prostheses. It intends to combine 3D printing with metamaterials to have capabilities and have a highly specific function.

MetaSense is a software program developed by a team of researchers from MIT that uses 3D printing for devices that use embedded electrodes in their functioning. The materials are made from repeating and flexible cells that are 3D printed with conductive and non-conductive filament. When compressed, the cells become sensors for a variety of applications. What they are targeting is the field of human prostheses. The focus of the researchers is the concept of feedback.

The concept of ‘feedback’ is seemingly simple but its significance is quite complex. It applies to basically everything in our surroundings at all times. Feedback means using information about the effect some- thing has on its environment to modify future output. It is also a mechanism that uses the conditions of one component to regulate the function of the other. Feedback is crucial to the team of researchers in a variety of ways. Since they will be using flexible cells that have two opposing walls of conductive filament and two walls of non-conductive filament, it will test the destructive impact made by the user’s force but also consider rotation and acceleration.

They are also considering the relevance of feedback to the production process. How is the feedback loop between the parts being manufactured – the non-conductive and conductive parts? Their MetaSense software should be able to synchronize this in a single production by using embedded electrodes and separate 3D printers. Only a few years ago, 3D printing showed great potential in creating personalized prosthetics with installed electrodes made after the printing. For one, the US military has shown interest in additive manufacturing for prosthetics. The Pentagon may be another investor in 3D printed prosthetics and how embedded electrodes can be integrated into it.

The feedback mechanism can potentially improve the quality of life of its end-users, the people who need prosthetics, so this venture carries a lot of promise.