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DARPA Research Paying Off: FDA Approves Robotic Arm Prosthesis


By Brett Daniel Shehadey
Special Contributor for In Homeland Security

Nearly eight years ago, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) set in a motion an initiative to replace artificial arms of the most primitive variety like metal hooks with robotic hands in an effort to support wounded veterans and restore greater functionality. The program was entitled Revolutionizing Prosthetics and jointly works with neural interfacing programs in the works like the Reliable Neural-Interface Technology (RE-NET) program.

The Federal Drug Administration (FDA) has just approved the first of one of these sponsored projects by DARPA and the US Army Research Office called the [Gen 3] DEKA Arm system. There are other participants in the DARPA Revolutionizing Prosthetics program but DEKA is the first to achieve FDA approval to develop and sell the devices to the public from a number of competitor and participants in the DARPA program.

The DEKA Arm is nicknamed the “Luke” after the Star Wars protagonist Luke Skywalker, who loses his hand in combat and has it replaced with an artificial robotic hand. This is a robotic arm and hand prosthetic that is controlled by the mind and integrated into the body’s nervous system using Targeted Muscle Reinnervtion. The goal of the program was to create better: functionality, near-human strength, wearability and comfort and look like a human hand.

Clinical trials were conducted for the DEKA Arm in coordination with the Department of Veterans Affairs and found that 90 percent of the 36 participants were able to perform more tasks than with the current prosthesis in use. Such tasks involved the basics of handling food, locks, keys, grooming, buttons, zippers, etc.

Christy Foreman, from FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health, said, “The DEKA Arm System may allow some people to perform more complex tasks than they can with current prostheses in a way that more closely resembles the natural motion of the arm.”

The “Luke” was invented by Dean Kamen’s company called DEKA Research and Development Corporation. Kamen is well known for mixing genius, science and technology with compassion. He has invented and worked on such devices as the iBOT, the Segway PT, the Slingshot water purification systems, the Stirling Engine, solar power and other medical devices.