It is pretty significant to draw a parallel between fiction and reality. In robotics, it couldn’t be different. Thus, it is possible to bring the theme Automail into a relevant context to our society.
“Automotive armored prostheses” belongs to the fictional universe created inside the anime Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood. Originally devised as a sort of motorized battle armor, automail eventually became advanced enough to double prosthetic body parts for amputees, which fits the anime’s war context.
Although generally used as an sophisticated medical tool to facilitate the lives of amputees, its venue for weapons is made clear to some of the characters, including the main one. Further than a therapeutic instrument, Edward Elric draws on the automail to fight against his enemies, as he dons both one right arm and left leg. Buccaneer, on the other hand, uses two types of combat automail, which completely abandons normal arm functions in favor of a weapon.
Concerning its functioning, the automotive armored prostheses is linked directly to the nervous system, in a way that can be moved like a natural appendage. It takes electrical pulses from the nerves to power and regulate the various electric motors and pneumatic actuators inside it.
In reality, prostheses working mode is actually very similar to the one presented in the anime. Recently, the use of electronics has become very common in artificial limbs. The current technology and manufacturing makes use of myoelectric limbs, which control the limbs by converting muscle movements to electrical signals.
In addition to that, the materials deployed in both worlds are alike, as well. In the universe of Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, the prostheses are generally made with a full steel skeletal frame layered with steel armor-plating, but can also be built of carbon fiber, which is the exact material employed to the ones in reality.
The major difference between both universes concerns the installation process. Those receiving automail for the first time must have each nerve painfully connected to a permanent housing system on the body, as well as have all the nerves connected simultaneously when the limb is later attached to the housing system.
At the same time, most actual prostheses can be attached to the exterior of the body, in a non-permanent way. However, there is another method to attach the artificial limb to the body, called Osseointegration. It approaches the automail’s linking to the body, as its surgery involves a direct implant into the bone that will then connect to the prosthetic.
Osseointegration can be performed mainly in the lower body, for above or below the knee amputations. This technique provides several advantages to the amputees, including improved physical control and mobility of the limb, but also superior stability and strength. The main profit is that an osseointegrated prosthetic limb practically eliminates common issues associated with sockets, such as nerve pain, pinching and sweating.
For instance, the U.S. Army Veteran and HSS patient Elana Duffy had several injuries to her right leg during her Iraq deployment in 2005. After years of an unsolved case, she was recommended to go through an osseointegration surgery. In a report to The New York Times Magazine, she quotes: “I am living mostly pain-free (…) without the pain, I’m more focused on what I am doing and what I can do next”.
To summarize, prosthetic limbs are a great alternative for amputees to cope better with day-to-day activities and being independent, in the end. From this point of view, the parallel drawn between fiction and reality is vastly positive due to the genuine curiosity generated to the viewers.
In the context of the anime, the automail is one of the most advanced devices developed, inserted in a military use. Therefore, its usage in the army as combat instruments, including even individuals that consciously choose to change body parts for automails, is a shocking theme that may arouse the curiosity of the viewers concerning real life prosthesis.