Science Fiction Film Inspires Real-World Application of Bionic Arms


Science fiction becomes science fact. That is, in itself, a fact. Researchers have long-sought to keep pace with the imagination of writers and creators. Storytelling’s inventive steps have become leaps of reality as the discipline of science endeavours to deliver what is written on the page or projected onto the cinema screen.

Doubtful? History is littered with examples of authors’ fanciful fantasies turning to fact. To this day, science fiction continues to inform real-world scientific research.

The science of enabling

Take developments in physical mobility. Prosthetic limbs have been in use for close to 3,000 years. Replacement body parts have developed in sophistication over that time, with added articulation and improved attempts at more lifelike replication of their real-life counterparts. Over the past decade, however, advancements in this distinctly specialist field have propelled the technology to match its fictional journey, as teenage amputee Tilly Lockey found out recently.

Who is Tilly Lockey?

Thirteen year old Tilly Lockey grew up in the north of England without the use of her hands. Contracting near-fatal meningococcal septicaemia as a baby, the ensuing process to save her life left her with both arms amputated below the elbow. Since then she’s learnt to adapt to life using prosthetic limbs. Those she’d been using however, were fairly primitive in nature. Her former myoelectric arms’ basic functionality was limited to gripping, and looking vaguely similar to the real thing. That all changed when Tilly was introduced to the Hero Arm.


What’s the Hero Arm?

Developed by Open Bionics, the Hero Arm is the next level in affordable replacement prosthesis. 3D printed and lightweight, yet strong, the arm picks up the cumbersome prosthetic of old and pops it promptly into the past. The arm, designed specifically for below-elbow amputees, uses EMG sensors to detect muscle movement, giving users intuitive, lifelike control of their bionic hand.

Tilly was introduced to this product at the premiere of a film that gave inspiration to the idea from its original comic book source. Alita: Battle Angel is a Hollywood blockbuster action movie about a female cyborg in a dystopian future from Spy Kids and From Dusk Till Dawn director Robert Rodriguez. Produced by Titanic and Avatar director James Cameron, the film explores feminine empowerment, autonomy and innovative tech. Its hero is, fittingly, a female hero with artificial limbs.

Up the blue carpet

Tilly’s own bespoke pair of bionic limbs were gifted to her completely by surprise by the production team. As an advocate for children with prosthetics, she believed she was taking part in a fairly regular photoshoot. However, the ruse was soon up as Miss Lockey was presented her new Hero Arms by producer James Cameron himself, before a star-studded waltz up the film premiere’s unique blue carpet, taking in the crowds and flashbulbs as one of the night’s A-listers.

The Hero Arm is just one part of a concerted drive towards research and development of enabling technology that’s inspired by pop culture creativity and people like Tilly; those who’ve achieved empowerment in spite of a debilitating physical condition. That’s a scientific fact we can all get behind.

>> How Technology Continues to Revolutionise the Film Industry

Dassault Systèmes SolidWorks Corp. offers complete 3D software tools that let you create, simulate, publish, and manage your data. SolidWorks products are easy to learn and use, and work together to help you design products better, faster, and more cost-effectively. The SolidWorks focus on ease-of-use allows more engineers, designers and other technology professionals than ever before to take advantage of 3D in bringing their designs to life.