may the DEKA be with you

DARPA handout image shows the DEKA Arm SystemAnd FDA (U.S. Food and Drug Administration) finally said Yes! The robotic arm developed at the the DEKA Research and Development Corp. (founded by Dean Kamen, the smart guy who invented the Segway) has finally been approved as the first prosthetic arm that can carry out multiple, simultaneous movements controlled by signals from electromyogram electrodes (as reported here). Along the lines of what we discussed in a previous post, the DEKA Arm System (codenamed Luke, after Luke Skywalker’s artificial hand) is a prosthetic arm for upper limb amputees (either from the elbow or the shoulder).

With respect to conventional artificial limbs, Luke mainly relies on myoelectricity: via specific electrodes, the electrical activity sent to muscle fibers (absent in case of amputations, but still seeked by firing nerves) is detected and converted into corresponding movements. Besides making the prosthetic control more natural and intuitive for the user, Luke can take advantage of one of the most advanced myoelectric techniques, Targeted Muscle Reinnervation (TMR). Basically, residual nerves from the lost limb can be transplanted and re-wired to the remaining muscular structures. As explained by Wiki, “the goal of TMR is to transfer multiple nerves into separate regions of the targeted muscle, record multiple yet independent signals from the muscle regions, and to use the EMG signals to control a motorized prosthesis sophisticated enough to process multiple control signals”. A Luke-bearing patient could actually feel actual sensations via the prosthetic limb! Luke’s control flexibility is clearly remarkable and is meant to address a wide range of needs from various amputees.

deka2Come on, no drawbacks? There must be an issue with this awesome product! Actually, as discussed on this site, “the real challenge for the Deka arm, as for many other types of sophisticated prostheses, is cost. A simple prosthestic arm (an essentially cosmetic device) can run $3000, while a sophisticated prosthesis can crack $50,000. In many cases, limbs have a relatively short lifespan; it’s not unusual to need a replacement every 3-4 years due to wear and tear on the device”. In any case, in order for Luke’s price to lower a bit, some wise character would say “patience you must have, my young padawan” !

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