A new, advanced mind controlled robotic arm from DEKA, given the Star Wars inspired name Luke (after Luke Skywalker), received approval by the FDA on May 9, so now it can be sold in the United States. The prosthetic arm will allow amputees to perform delicate tasks and movements like manipulating keys, holding a grape, cleaning, cooking, and much more. Dean Kamen, who invented the prosthetic mind controlled arm, also invented the Segway, an all-terrain electric wheelchair, the first wearable insulin pump for diabetics, and a portable dialysis machine.
Users can operate the prosthetic robotic arm through electromyogram electrodes (EMG). The remaining portions of the amputees’ arms send signals through the electrodes that enable amputees to perform tasks that otherwise would have been difficult or impossible for them, such as using zippers, playing Frisbee, or cooking eggs.
Much of the money that funded the research, $40 million, came from the U.s. Defense Department’s advanced research arm, DARPA, as a part of their efforts to help U.S. service members who became amputees through serving in Afghanistan and Iraq.
One of the goals in creating the high tech prosthetic arm was to make it “the same size, weight, shape and grip strength as an adult’s arm would be able to produce,” according to DAPA’s Justin Sanchez. He added that the DEKA robotic prosthetic arm could also be used to do tasks like operate “rugged tools such as a hand drill.”
Simultaneous commands from the user’s brain sent through the electrodes can make the arm perform up to 10 different movements, among them six ways or “patterns” to grip objects.
According to the findings of clinical studies, 90 percent of the 36 amputees who were fitted with the DEKA prosthetic arm were able to use it to perform tasks related to caring for themselves like brushing hair and feeding themselves, and also in maintaining their households.
The DEKA robotic prosthetic arm not for all amputees
While the DEKA robotic prosthetic arm can be used to replace an arm amputated at the shoulder joint, or ones lost at the mid-lower or mid-upper parts of the arm, it is not for amputees who have lost a part of the arm at the elbow or wrist joint, according to the FDA.
The DEKA robotic prosthetic arm (also known as the DEKA Arm System) won’t be made widely available to the public until the company is able to get the commercial and financial backing needed for them to mass market the devices.
Other prosthetic arms that are in development but are still years away because they have yet to undergo sufficient testing and the clinical studies necessary to gain approval by the FDA will enable amputees to recognize differences between smooth and rough surfaces and even be able to distinguish the textures of objects while blindfolded. Until those arms become available, the DEKA robotic prosthetic arm developed by DEKA founder Dean Kamen using U.S. Defense Department funding is the latest high tech way for amputees to improve the quality of their lives.
Written by: Douglas Cobb