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Star Wars-inspired prosthetic arm 'Luke' approved by FDA, gives new hope to amputees

10 May 2014, 10:39 pm EDT By Jim Algar Tech Times
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A high-tech robotic, prosthetic arm that will allow amputees to perform complex movements and tasks has received approval for sale in the United States.

Dubbed Luke after the character Luke Skywalker who at one point in the "Star Wars" movie trilogy gets a prosthetic hand, the DEKA prosthetic arm has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration after a review of data.

The prosthetic limb, controlled by the mind of the wearer, was designed and developed at the DEKA company, whose founder Dean Kamen invented the personal mobility Segway device.

Electromyogram electrodes in the arm that are in contact with the remaining portions of the amputee's arm detect electrical signals in muscles moving in those portions, allowing users to perform intricate tasks such as using keys or a zipper.

Feedback provided from the prosthetic can also allow a user to perform tasks requiring a delicate touch, such as picking up eggs or grapes without crushing them.

DARPA, the advanced research arm of the U.S. Defense Department, funded the research to the tune of $40 million in an effort to help some 1,800 U.S. service members who underwent amputations resulting from injuries sustained while serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The DEKA prosthetic was devised to provide almost natural control of upper extremities for people who have required amputations, says Justin Sanchez of the biological technologies office at DARPA.

"This arm system has the same size, weight, shape and grip strength as an adult's arm would be able to produce," he says. "Think about our military personnel, who can be great beneficiaries of these devices: before DARPA made an investment in this area the best we could give back to them was metal hooks."

The arm can respond to simultaneous commands from the wearer's brain and provide as many as to 10 different movements, including six distinct "grip patterns."

A study conducted by the U.S. Department of Veterans affairs found 90 percent of people fitted with a DEKA arm regained the ability to perform complex actions, including self-care activities and common household tasks.

The prosthetic arm could replace limbs lost at the mid-upper or mid-lower arm or the shoulder joint, but not the wrist or elbow joint, the FDA said.

For now, detauks on availability and pricing of the arm will have to wait since the New Hampshire-based DEKA still needs to find a commercial and financial partner for mass manufacturing.

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