SERVO 07.2014 23
ARMED AND READY
After nearly eight years of development and testing, the Luke Arm
(named after Luke Skywalker’s ultra-advanced bionic limb) has been
approved for commercialization by the US Food and Drug
The Luke Arm — whose official name is the DEKA Arm System
— is one of the most advanced robotic prostheses ever built.
According to the FDA, this is the first prosthetic arm approved by the
agency that "translates signals from a person's muscles to perform
The DEKA Arm was created by famed inventor Dean Kamen and
his team at DEKA Research and Development Corp., in Manchester,
NH, as part of DARPA's Revolutionizing Prosthetics program.
The goal of the US $100 million program was to develop an
advanced prosthetic arm with near-natural control to improve quality of life for
amputees. DARPA funded two groups: the DEKA project and another effort led
by researchers at Johns Hopkins University.
What makes the DEKA Arm unique is that it can carry out multiple
simultaneous powered movements, and its wrist and fingers can adjust its
positions to perform six different user-selectable grips. In addition, force sensors
let the robotic hand precisely control its grasp.
"This prosthetic limb system can pick up objects as delicate as a grape, as
well as being able to handle very rugged tools like a hand drill," Justin Sanchez, a
DARPA program manager who oversees the program, told Reuters.
There's no information on availability and price yet. According to DARPA,
DEKA plans to "pursue manufacturing and commercial opportunities to bring the
arm to market."
Dean Kamen has done just that with previous technologies he invented,
notably drug delivery systems and other medical devices. The market for assistive
technologies is challenging because systems tend to be expensive.
The hope is DEKA can find a partner to manufacture and market
its bionic arm at an affordable cost.
The DEKA Arm — which has similar size and weight to a
natural limb — relies on a combination of control inputs. The main
signals come from electromyogram (EMG) electrodes which sense
electrical activity on muscles close to where the prosthesis is
attached. A computer on the prosthesis receives the EMG signals
and interprets them to make the fingers open or close, or change
the grip configuration to let the user pick up a coin, for example.