The Vanderbilt Steam-Powered Arm

Posted by on August 26th,2007

Professor Goldfarb of the Vanderbilt University with a Steam Powered Arm, photo by Daniel P Dubois of the University

At the University of Vanderbilt (html version here), a team of very clever people led by Professor Goldfarb are working on a most noble goal – to build a better artificial arm. What interests us is that while it’s been hailed as ‘rocket powered’ – the real heart of the device is actually our old friend steam!

Dismayed by the ever increasing demand for power and thus bigger batteries, Professor Goldfarb was instead inspired by the maneuvering rockets on the space shuttle, and he and the team worked on a pencil sized system that with a special catalyst burns hydrogen peroxide and creates very high temperature steam! This steam is sent to obscenely precise valves connected to the joints, enabling their movement. Interesting to note for Steampunk afficinadoes: if the valves are any less than accurate to 100 millionths of an inch, the valves leak, click and hiss! They had to insulate the steam engine, of course, and to get rid of the resulting water when cooled, they let it ‘sweat’ off! (Creating no more ‘sweat’ than a real arm might on a sunny day.)

So, there is hope for steam powered prosthetics in the future – a wonderful application of modern steam power that should swing close enough to life imitating art to amuse those with an eye on Steampunk. chuckles  Thanks to Portico, Mr Wallace, DerGolgo, Mr Buser and Mr Pfeifer.