Making hands :: a history of scientific research and technological innovation in the development of myoelectric upper limb prostheses, 1945 to 2010

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University of New Brunswick


The dissertation examines the history of scientific research and technological innovation in the development of myoelectric, upper‐limb prostheses from 1945 to 2010. A general history of the field is presented, as well as individual case studies on the development of commercially significant technologies and products. The field history and cases are examined against major concepts of research and development (R&D) and technological innovation during the second half of the twentieth century. The major forces behind changes in the field have been technological innovation in other industries, especially transistors, microprocessors and batteries, government funding programs, and the engineers/entrepreneurs who, alone or in collaboration with others, directed the development projects. The engineers/entrepreneurs were in turn influenced by changing conceptions and practices of R&D, innovation, and entrepreneurship. The field history shows how conceptions and practice of R&D and product development changed over the period. Funding and R&D programs were designed in light of the linear model of innovation in the 1940s and 1950s. In the 1960s more pragmatic design engineering programs were originated at universities and hospitals, leading to the development of myoelectric upper limb devices by the 1970s. Government funding programs changed in the mid‐1970s, with a reduction in support for design engineering, and increased support for research. This led to new approaches within the field, including development of pattern recognition systems and targeted muscle reinnervation. The 1990s saw the rise of innovation oriented projects, with an increasing emphasis on development activties, international collaboration, project governance and strategic management, the use of complex legally binding agreements, intellectual property management, and commercialization.