What Do A Bionic Arm, Johns Hopkins, And
Idaho Have in Common?

By    |   October 3, 2017, 4:25 pm EDT

Johnny Matheny has been living without an arm since 2008. A few years prior, he was diagnosed with cancer and forced to amputate his left forearm after multiple rounds of unsuccessful treatment. Faced with the reality of life without a limb, he was about to join the ranks of thousands of other men and women whose limbs have been removed as a result of trauma, war, or disease. But for Matheny, this was only the beginning of his story.

Through a connection to the Applied Physics Lab at Johns Hopkins University, Matheny was fitted with the world’s first bionic arm. The technology in the arm interprets signals sent by the brain to motor neurons, and then moves accordingly. It is a complete replacement, featuring a working elbow joint and a hand with moving fingers. Initially, Matheny was only allowed to use the arm a few hours a day in the lab. Now, nine years later, he is able to take it home and wear it for one full year as Johns Hopkins collects further data.

Unfortunately, after one year of getting accustomed to having two full, working arms, Johnny will likely have to return his prosthetic. Not only that, but the working technology has been confined to the lab for almost a decade, while thousands of people could be benefiting from its use around the world. Enter: Innovation Collective.

Innovation Collective is helping cities around the US boost lagging economies through the development of innovation hubs. In their founding city of Coeur d’Alene in Idaho, Innovation Collective has been quietly building a robotics and artificial intelligence hub since 2013. They’ve held festivals and other events that have attracted talent and boosted innovation, resulting in investments of over $34 million in the city and the construction of a 36,000 square foot Innovation Den housing over 50 companies.

Innovation Collective’s Founder Nick Smoot, through his connection with the Applied Physics Lab, met Matheny earlier this year. He invited Matheny to speak at IC’s Think Big festival, and then launched a joint fundraising goal. Their first target, in partnership with the Starfish Prosthetics Foundation, is to raise $500K to allow Johnny to keep his bionic arm, for which IC has kicked off an IndieGogo campaign that you can contribute to. Rewards for donors range from dinner with Johnny to his cooking a dish for you, and even having a version of the robotic arm named after you.

The second, more ambitious goal is getting the arm to the public, which is estimated to cost a total of $1.2M, but only $20K to start. Furthermore, if such a program were to be built in Coeur D’Alene, it would revitalize a city whose traditional industries of logging and mining have been dying out for decades. At the same time, Innovation Collective is expanding to other cities, including Spokane, Washington, where they are developing an Intellectual Property hub.

Large scale economic and social change is rarely possible through the efforts of just one entity, and that’s why Innovation Collective is so essential to the US. By bringing together the public and private sector, and experts and consumers across a number of industries, they are helping ensure that cities with traditional industries in the middle of the country are not left behind while coastal cities progress. Further, in the process, they create the potential to truly change lives, starting with Johnny Matheny’s.

To give to the IndieGogo campaign, go here, and for further information on Innovation Collective, please visit their website.

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