Since approximately World War II, the U.S. Army has used the same technology for prosthetic arms: essentially, a plastic arm tube with a hook at the end. After years of development in other areas of science, DARPA, the U.S. Defense Department's advanced research agency, decided it was time for a major upgrade to their technology. After nearly eight years of development, DARPA has finally developed something that could dramatically change lives around the world.
Developed in conjunction with Dean Kamen, otherwise known as the guy who invented the Segway, the DEKA Arm is an advanced prosthetic limb giving the wearer "near-natural" control over his/her arm.
Image Credit: DARPA
Back in 2009, CBS' 60 Minutes profiled the DEKA Arm, which had already made great strides in development and technological achievement. Roughly five years later, the FDA has granted it official, giving an entirely new level of control and prosthetic dexterity to amputees.
The project was fast-tracked in the FDA's 'de novo' classification process and received roughly $40 million of DARPA funding, though it seems the money was used wisely. The project went from idea to ready-for-market in just eight years, an accomplishment nearly unheard of for such a product. The device makes use of small control sensors placed in the wearer's shoe. The DEKA Arm is battery powered, similar in size and weight to a natural limb, has six different grips, can recognize 10 specific movements and even utilizes sensors to allow the wearer to know how much force they're exerting on the object they're picking up (They could grab a grape without crushing it.).
There's no indication of what the device will cost, but regardless, it's a major breakthrough that could change lives. Though it was developed mostly by and for the U.S. Army, the DEKA Arm isn't just some super-weapon; it's a real, applicable tool that can help people all over the world. Don't be embarrassed if this arm immediately made you think of Star Wars; employees have embraced the comparison and are affectionately calling the arm "Luke" after the Star Wars hero who receives the perfect arm transplant in Empire Strikes Back.
And here's Dean Kamen telling Stephen Colbert all about Luke: