The man behind the Segway scooter designs bionic arm for soldiers wounded in combat...
A new high tech prosthetic arm, designed by the man behind the Segway electric scooter, Dean Kamen, could have amputees back in action sooner than expected.
The Luke Arm, named after the bionic hand sported by Luke Skywalker in the Star Wars movies, weight no more than a human arm and boasts the same range of motion and tactile sensitivity.
Kamen and his team at DEKA, began research into the project after meeting with a Department of Defense official in 2005.
The DoD were looking for a new type of prosthetic arm that met strict requirements. The checklist demanded prosthetic arm: fully articulate, with an opposable thumb and fine motor control, small, lightweight and completely self-contained.
After two years in development, Kamen and his team completed a prototype to show patients at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center.
Project manager Stewart Coulter, said:
“You went through a movie and a half or a couple of movies before you knew that Luke Skywalker had a prosthetic hand…
“That was the goal. It acts like the real equipment.”
The original Luke Arm strapped on to the patients body and could be controlled by foot pedals, pull switches or more advanced methods using muscle movements from nearby, undamaged muscles.
But the technology that makes this prostheses truly bionic, a control mechanism capable of ‘targeted renervation’, was developed by Dr. Todd Kuiken of the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago.
Thanks to his neurological advances, the Luke Arm can be connected to motor nerves and be controlled by brain.
The device works in conjunction with the Luke Arm, connecting to the nerves, decoding the signal from the brain, then telling the arm what to do with the wrist, hand and fingers. The wearer need only think about what they would like to do, and the Luke Arm responds.
And the nerves don’t only control the device, they receive input from it as well. Instead of relying on sight, the Luke Arm is able to send messages back to brain, telling the amputee what they are holding and how tightly.
Kuiken hopes that one day his sensors will be able to convey more subtle information, for example, that the glass is cold:
“In five years, I’d like to have a hand that does different grasps, a wrist that goes in two directions, a power elbow, all weighing no more than a human arm…
“If we can do all that, it will be amazing. Emotionally, if you can touch something and feel like it’s your own hand, it would be very powerful.”
Kamen’s device isn’t the only advanced prosthetic intended for Iraq’s wounded warriors. The Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), has committed $50 million to its Revolutionizing Prosthetics Program.
DARPA’s Jan Walker said,
“Because of improvements in medical care and armor, there are many injuries that people can survive now but couldn’t earlier,”
Restoring functional limbs isn’t just a question of compassion. Some amputees want to remain in service, and the military can use them.
Walker explained that leg prostheses are more advanced in terms of both design and function, leg amputees can stay on active duty; the goal is to do the same for those who have lost an arm, a more difficult limb to replicate.
Update: Further trails on the technology show promise for the future.
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