A News Health — 10 July 2015

A new prosthetic arm is getting closer to being available – an arm that may one day allow the user to “feel” again.

Dubbed the “Luke Arm,” after Luke Skywalker’s famous prosthetic arm, the arm was designed to more closely mimic a person’s real arm, with the goal of restoring “the feel and function of natural limbs.”

Metro-Ad2This goal, as defined by DARPA (the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency), is part of the Revolutionizing Prosthetics program that is intended to improve the quality of prosthetics available to the growing number of combat veterans who have lost limbs in the course of duty.

Created by DEKA Innovative Solutions Corp. over the last 8 years, the DEKA Arm was funded by the DARPA project by a $18.1 million dollar award to help develop the new prosthesis. Headed by Dean Kamen – the inventor of the Segway, DEKA’s new arm has certainly delivered on restoring improved function. It has already proven its ability to help users accomplish tasks requiring greater dexterity than they have with their current prostheses – including small tasks such as using keys and handling food, as well as larger tasks. A recent DARPA video that has gone viral, features a climber that is able to ascend a climbing wall with the DEKA arm.

Although this increased dexterity is unprecendented, DARPA (and DEKA) is shooting for an even higher goal – to restore the sense of feeling.

Known as HAPTIX (the Hand Proprioception and Touch Interfaces program), the project is aimed at restoring sensory function to such an extent that people will want to wear there prostheses all the time, while also reducing phantom limb pain, which affects around 80% of amputees. American News Report originally reported on the DARPA project, and HAPTIX, back in April. Click here to read the story.

DARPA announced last week, that they have awarded another 7 million dollars to DEKA, to continue their work on the new arm. According to the new award announcement, the award is intended to improve the DEKA Arm System such that it “can accommodate the broadest user community possible” while integrating HAPTIX in an attempt give the user the most natural experience available.

DARPA also noted; however, that this technology will come at a price, and that price per unit may exceed $100,000 – a price that is unlikely to be paid by any insurance company.

While we applaud the incredible advances in technology, it is unfortunate that the ultimate prosthetic arm will most likely be financially unobtainable to the majority of the very people it was designed for. We can only hope that, like all technology, what is expensive today will be affordable tomorrow – after all, our veterans deserve it.

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Geoff Sims

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