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Sunday, February 03, 2008

"Luke Arm": the new Prosthesis

Dean Kamen's “Luke arm”—a prosthesis named for the remarkably lifelike prosthetic worn by Luke Skywalker in Star Wars—came to the end of its two-year funding last month. Its fate now rests in the hands of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), which funded the project. If DARPA gives the project the green light—and some greenbacks—the state-of-the-art bionic arm will go into clinical trials. If all goes well, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration gives its approval, returning veterans could be wearing the new artificial limb by next year.

The Luke arm grew out of DARPA’s Revolutionizing Prosthetics program, which was created in 2005 to fund the development of two arms. The first initiative, the four-year, US $30.4 million Revolutionizing Prosthetics contract, to be completed in 2009, led by Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md., seeks a fully functioning, neurally controlled prosthetic arm using technology that is still experimental. The latter, awarded to Deka Research and Development Corp., Kamen’s New Hampshire–based medical products company (perhaps best known for the Segway), is a two-year $18.1 million 2007 effort to give amputees an advanced prosthesis that could be available immediately “for people who want to literally strap it on and go.” Kamen’s team designed the Deka arm to be controlled with noninvasive measures, using an interface a bit like a joystick.

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