Segway inventor’s Star Wars-inspired robotic arm earns FDA approval, gives new hope to amputees
LUKE, the highly advanced robotic arm for amputees named after Star Wars character Luke Skywalker, has been approved for marketing by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Also known as the DEKA Arm System (see our previous post), the prosthetic limb is roughly the size and weight of an adult arm. Made by DEKA, the same company that provided the robotic arm to the BrainGate research, the system is the brainchild of Dean Kamen, inventor of the Segway (watch his TED speech below).A technology that was pure sci-fi just a few years ago, is no fiction anymore. With the help of LUKE, amputees can pick up objects as delicate as a grape, as well be able to handle very rugged tools like a hand drill.
Controlled by electrical signals from electromyogram (EMG) electrodes, the prosthetic limb system can respond to simultaneous commands from the wearer’s brain and provide as many as to 10 different movements, including six distinct grip patterns. (EMG electrodes detect electrical activity caused by the contraction of muscles close to where the prosthesis is attached. The electrodes send the electrical signals to a computer processor in the prosthesis that translates them to a specific movement or movements.)
The arm’s history began nearly eight years ago, when DARPA set out to find a better solution for amputees than the metal hooks still widely used today. Now, the FDA has granted its approval to LUKE, one of the projects that came from that effort, providing a way for every-day amputee victims to perform complex tasks via an artificial limb for the first time.
The prosthetic arm gained federal approval after clinical studies involving 36 veteran amputees showed that 90 percent of the participants were able to perform common household activities such as using keys and locks, using zippers, brushing and combing hair, cooking, cleaning, and eating, soon after becoming familiar with the command system of the robotic arm.
In the videos below, Fred Downs, one of the recipients of the Deka Arm, demonstrates the prosthetic hand, and his ability to pick up and move objects.
“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,” said Christy Foreman, director of the Office of Device Evaluation at the FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health.
The DEKA Arm System can be configured for people with limb loss occurring at the shoulder joint, mid-upper arm, or mid-lower arm. It cannot be configured for limb loss at the elbow or wrist joint.
Data reviewed by the FDA also included testing of software and electrical and battery systems, mitigations to prevent or stop unintended movements of the arm and hand mechanisms, durability testing (such as ability to withstand exposure to common environmental factors such as dust and light rain), and impact testing.
Still, while the DEKA Arm System is highly advanced, a number of other researchers around the world are working on similar devices, but DEKA is the first such prosthetic to get FDA approval, and is is available now, providing some amputees a means to improve their quality of life.