Bionic-armed driver dies after crash

<b style="color:#900;">update</b> The young man--reported to be the first person allowed to drive using a state-of-the-art bionic arm--died in the hospital after a car crash in Austria.

Elizabeth Armstrong Moore
Elizabeth Armstrong Moore is based in Portland, Oregon, and has written for Wired, The Christian Science Monitor, and public radio. Her semi-obscure hobbies include climbing, billiards, board games that take up a lot of space, and piano.
Elizabeth Armstrong Moore
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Christian Kandlbauer had learned to drive a car. Otto Bock HealthCare

Update at 10:00 a.m. PDT: BBC News reported Friday that Christian Kandlbauer "was pronounced brain-dead in intensive care...and his life support was switched off." The story has been updated throughout to reflect this.

Christian Kandlbauer, who was fitted with an experimental bionic arm after losing both arms when he was shocked by a 20,000-volt power line in 2005, has died following a car accident in Austria.

In hopes of leading a normal life again, he had become a guinea pig in a four-year research project on a novel bionic arm.

The 22-year-old had fought for his life in intensive care in Austria after his custom-made Subaru crashed into a tree on Tuesday.

As Kandlbauer--who was rescued from his burning car by a truck driver--was being treated for head injuries, the company that made his arm told the Austrian newspaper Kurier that its employees were in a state of shock.

"He isn't just one of our prosthetic users, but a friend for many of us. We are all thinking about him and hoping that he gets better soon," said a representative for Vienna-based Otto Bock HealthCare.

So far, no statement has been released regarding the cause of the crash or whether there was any failure on the part of the bionic arm.

The arm was developed using a new technique called targeted muscle reinnervation. In a six-hour operation, surgeons in Vienna transplanted the nerves that had controlled Kandlbauer's left arm to muscles in his chest, which then amplified the signal enough to be picked up by electrodes on the surface of his chest. A micro-computer then interpreted those signals into motion in real time.

Things had been looking up for the young man. With the bionic left arm and a prosthetic right arm, Kandlbauer was able to go back to work as a warehouse clerk at the garage that had employed him as a mechanic. And after extensive training with both the arm and the custom-made car, Kandlbauer even passed a driver's test.

Kandlbauer's ultimate goal was to live independently once again.