FDA approves historic robotic arm replacement

By Casey Frye, CCNN Writer

FDA robo arm
The “Luke” prosthetic is capable of fine motor control and is lightyears better than the usual hook hands!

About eight years ago, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) launched a program to build futuristic prosthetics – artificial limbs that replace missing ones – for injured war veterans. They teamed up with a company called DEKA Research and Development Corp. to produce the DEKA Arm System, and it’s the first prosthetic arm of its kind to gain approval from the US Food and Drug Administration.

The DEKA Arm System is nicknamed “Luke” after the Star Wars character Luke Skywalker, who loses his hand and gains a robotic one. Frankly, the DEKA Arm System is definitely sophisticated enough to earn such a name. For one, it is equipped with several sensors that attach to muscles and read signals sent from the brain, similar to how a real arm moves.

Additionally, there is a remote control by a person’s foot that also directs the motion of the robotic arm. A small computer located inside the prosthetic calculates all these commands and the result is a super advanced mechanical limb that is capable of complex motor control across multiple joints.

For example, individuals with the prosthetic can carry out complicated tasks we often take for granted, such as unlocking doors, picking up food to eat, brushing teeth, and combing hair. The arm is also gentle enough to deal with small objects like grapes, yet sturdy enough to work with hand drills. It’s these high-tech features that earned the gadget its approval from the FDA in the first place. The agency was especially impressed with how the DEKA Arm System translated the signals into smooth and natural movements.

The DEKA Arm System will replace outdated hook hand prosthetics typically issued to veterans who had limbs amputated (surgically removed), advancing an area of medical technology that hasn’t changed much since 1912!

Images courtesy of DARPA.