Home' Technology Review : May 2005 Contents 52 FEATURE STORY
the phone via buttons on his steering wheel. As she drives down
the road, her phone might connect to another in a passing car.
Suddenly, her navigation system fails. "This type of threat is
probably inevitable," says Schneier. In the future, cars will in-
clude computer systems that per mit remote diagnosis of prob-
lems. They should be kept physically separate from hardware
that regulates mechanical systems---perfor ming calibrations, for
instance---lest a virus cause steering or brake controls to fail.
Protection against this nascent peril is beginning to appear.
Symbian, the company whose mobile-device operating system
has been targeted by every cell-phone virus so far, has released a
version of its software that grants Bluetooth access only to pro-
grams tagged with secure digital IDs. Antiviral software is not
currently bundled with the software preinstalled on most pri-
vately purchased cell phones and so is found almost exclusively
in business-issued phones. But companies like McAfee and
InnoPath Software are developing easy ways for individual con-
sumers to download antiviral software. According to research
rm IDC, spending on mobile security will leap from around
$100 million in 2004 to nearly $1 billion by 2008---with a signi -
cant portion going toward antiviral protection.
ValleZ says he s done coding mobile malware---for a little
while, at least. Of course, that won t stop others from concocting
their own electronic pests. Another, completely new and more
vir ulent mobile vir us, CommWarrior, was found in late Febru-
ary. It sends out costly multimedia messages but contains so
many bugs that it doesn t pose a major threat. The next malicious
piece of code, however, may be neither a war ning exercise nor a
self-defeating pest but a full-bore attack on the wireless world.
PROSTHETICS Mating robotics with the nervous
system creates a new generation of artificial limbs
that work like the real thing. By Corie Lok
Conventional leg prostheses frequently leave their users, espe-
cially above-the-knee amputees, stumbling and falling or walk-
ing with abnor mal gaits. Hugh Herr, a professor at MIT s Media
Laboratory, is building more-reliable prostheses that users can
control more precisely. Some of the latest prosthetic knees on the
market already have microprocessors built into them that can be
programmed to help the limbs move more naturally. But Herr
has taken this idea one step further. He has developed a knee
with built-in sensors that can measure how far the knee is bent,
as well as the amount of force the user applies to it while walking.
This arti cial knee---recently commercialized by the Icelandic
company Össur---also contains a computer chip that analyzes the
sensor data to create a model of the user s gait, and adapt the
movement and resistance of the knee accordingly.
Now Her r is working to distribute those sensors beyond the
knee joint, using them to detect not just the mechanical forces of
the body but also neural signals from the muscles near the joint.
This work is part of
an emerging disci-
pline called biome-
chatronics, in which
researchers are building robotic prostheses that can communi-
cate with users nervous systems. In ve to seven years, predicts
Herr, spinal-cord injury patients will move their limbs again by
controlling robotic exoskeletons strapped onto them (or at least
they will in research settings). Biomechatronics is receiving
more attention now in part because of the Iraq War, which is
sending a high number of U.S. soldiers home with crippling in-
juries. Herr, who leads the Media Lab s biomechatronics group,
is part of a new $7.2 million research project run by the U.S. De-
partment of Veterans A airs (VA) to develop new technologies
for amputees who lost limbs as the result of combat injuries.
Herr, a double leg amputee, plans on becoming his own rst
test subject for his latest prosthetic ankle prototype. By early next
year, at least three small sensors will be implanted into the mus-
cles of one of his legs below the knee. As Herr exes his leg mus-
cles in ways that once moved his ankle, these sensors will
measure electrical activity in the muscles and transmit that infor-
mation to a computer chip in the prosthetic ankle, which will
translate those impulses into instructions for the ankle s motors.
Herr hopes to be able to move the ankle by ring up the residual
muscles near the joint and feeling it respond, just as he would
with a natural joint. Nor will communication be just one way.
Herr should also be able to sense the ankle s position through vi-
brations emanating from the joint.
"We regard this work as extraor-
dinarily promising," says Roy
Aaron, a professor of orthopedics
at Brown Medical School who is
heading up the VA project.
Having lost his lower legs to
frostbite while mountain climbing
as a teenager, Herr says he s look-
ing for ward to trying out the de-
vice. "I think it will be a profound
experience to control my ankles
again," he says. Herr s vision for the
eld is to combine biomechatron-
ics with tissue engineering and cre-
ate limbs made of both arti cial
materials and human tissue. Says
Herr, "I think, inevitably, we ll end
up with hybrid devices." ■
BIOMECHATRONICS ILLUSTRATION BY +ISM
According to the U.S. Centers
for Disease Control and
Prevention, as of 1996, 1.2
million people living in the U.S.
had lost limbs. Since then, the
diabetes epidemic has driven
up the number of amputations.
NUMBER OF U.S. HOSPITAL
DISCHARGES INVOLVING AMPUTA-
TIONS. *ESTIMATED. SOURCE:
CENTERS FOR DISEASE CONTROL
* WWW.TECHNOLOGYREVIEW.COM For summaries
of the latest developments on the emerging technologies
selected in previous years, enter Keyword: TR10.
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