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A Thought-Controlled Prosthetic Arm? Digital Trends Calls It the ‘Best of CES’

Every January the most groundbreaking tech innovations of the year go on display at CES in Las Vegas. But this year, was the year of health-tech and a new innovation in prosthetics. For the past few years, biomedical engineers have been working hard in developing robotic prosthetic arms for amputees that can move with a person’s thoughts and feel the sensation of touch via an array of electrodes implanted in the muscles of the patient.

While CES is undoubtedly a whirlwind of gadgetry, pageantry, and multi-story booths promoting Silicon Valley overlords, 2020 is most definitely the year of health-tech. But, don’t get me wrong, it’s still exciting to see mobile phone giants announce their next generation models, TVs getting clearer and sharper, and the concept of flying taxis or bikes that ride on the water.

Point being, there’s always a lot of cool stuff that you as a consumer don’t want to miss out on. However, this year at CES 2020, we saw a flock of licensed healthcare professionals on the floor looking at the latest and greatest with respect to improving the life expectancy and quality of their patients.

Last December (2019), researchers from Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab delivered the Modular Prosthetic Limb (MPL) to Johnny Matheny, the first person to live with an advanced mind-controlled robotic arm. Matheny, who lost his arm to cancer in 2005, is the first person to live with the MPL, but there are plans to have others try it this year. While there are of course limitations with Matheny’s ability in using the arm (getting it wet or driving while wearing it), the overarching goal is to push the robotic prosthetic to its limits.

According to Quartz, Johns Hopkins has received more than $120 million from the U.S. Defense Department to help pay for the arm’s development over the past 10 years.

Well, this year at CES, we saw another company push the idea of robotic prosthetics to the next level:

We saw plenty of technology that could make our lives marginally more comfortable, exciting, or convenient,” said Jeremy Kaplan, Editor-in-Chief of Digital Trends, the largest independent technology publisher. “But one device we saw at CES 2020 absolutely floored us when we realized the life-changing implications: The BrainCo Dexus.”

The Dexus Arm Lets Thoughts Become Actions

The Dexus is a prosthetic arm that’s controlled by the user’s thoughts. Yes, just sit with that for a minute. We’ll hold your place.

Okay? Okay. You’ve probably had a minute to go through a mental process like this:

Is that even possible?

What other devices could potentially be controlled by our thoughts?

Does this mean that thoughts really are things?

But enough philosophizing. The Dexus doesn’t require the difficult training of traditional articulated prosthesis. Intentions become hand movements almost seamlessly, just like with a biological hand, as the Dexus responds to the user’s brainwaves. An amputee can put it on, and simply think it into use. Digital Trends reporters watched a user write intricate calligraphy with their Dexus arm.

BrainCo’s innovation is the result of years of Harvard-backed research, and is slated for approval by the Food and Drug Administration later this year. At that point it should be market ready, with a price tag around one quarter the size of other prosthetic arms.

It’s not hyperbole to say that the usual tech terms like ‘game changing’ and ‘groundbreaking’ pale when considering the reality of this device. It’s a tech gizmo that could change what we know about being human. With its lower cost, it could save or at least dramatically improve lives. And it opens the doors to new possibilities in how technology interacts with our bodies and minds.

Over a Dozen Other Winners Wowed in Their Categories

BrainCo wasn’t the only one wowing Digital Trends at the trade show, whose annual CES awards list is widely anticipated thanks to the publisher’s high-earning Millennial audience.

The full ‘Best Of’ list includes winners in more than a dozen categories. Some of these are the usual suspects.

Samsung’s new mobile, Vizio’s latest soundbar, an Insta360 action camera, Lockly’s improved smart lock design, and two smartwatches (Diesel won the Wearables category, while Withings won Health and Wellness) all scored Digital Trends trophies.

Impossible Foods, who won the top award last year, makes another appearance this year in the Tech For Change category, for their new meatless Impossible Pork.

Other winners are a little more sci-fi, like the Manta5 Hydrofoiler XE-1, a bike that rides on the water. Or the Sarcos Guardian XO Exoskeleton, which is like the robot suit from Aliens but sleeker.

And there’s the new foldable Lenovo laptop (Tablet? Desktop? All of the above?), TCL’s ultra hi-res LED TV, the new Pimax virtual reality headset, Damon’s shapeshifting electric motorcycle, and the countertop Juno Cooler, which can turn your hot coffee into iced coffee in minutes. You can read full writeups on all the winners here

Clearly, consumer tech is going in some cool directions. But at the end of the day, it’s tech for change that gets Best in Show.