‘Star Wars’ Robotic Arm Approved By FDA; Allows Amputees To Perform Complex Tasks

Last Friday, the FDA (US Food and Drug Administration) announced the official approval of the Star Wars robotic arm specifically designed for amputees.

DEKA Research and Development Corp., based in New Hampshire, developed the DEKA Arm System, also called “The Luke.” It was named after Luke Skywalker, the character in the 1980 film, Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back, whose hand was sliced off during a battle with Darth Vader. His arm was then replaced with a robotic arm.

The approval from the FDA came after they reviewed data from the US Department of Veterans Affairs study, which stated that 90 percent of amputees who used the robotic arm were able to do complex actions, such as combing their hair, brushing their teeth, using zippers, eating, and using locks and keys.

The robotic arm is said to have the same weight and shape as an adult’s arm. It works with the use of electromyogram electrodes that are capable of detecting the electrical activity that results from muscle contraction. The FDA also said that it is the first robotic arm that is capable of carrying out multiple movements.

Robotic Arm for Amputees

Christy Foreman, the Director of the Office of Device Evaluation at the FDA said, “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.”

The approval of the robotic arm is a big advancement from the metal hooks currently used by amputees today. The DEKA robotic arm’s development was included in the $100 million project for the improvement of prosthetics. The DARPA (Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) contributed $40 million for DEKA’s development of the robotic arm.

Pentagon’s interest in the robotic arm was fueled by the fact that it answers problems of US troops that sustained injuries from wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Based on Pentagon’s reports, over 1,800 service members had undergone major limb amputations because of the injuries that they sustained in those wars.

According to the agency, the robotic arm can be used by amputees with limb loss at the mid-lower arm, mid-upper arm, or at the shoulder joint.

Program Manager for DARPA, Justin Sanchez, said that the robotic arm is capable of handling power tools such as a hand drill, yet can also pick up delicate items like a grape or an egg without doing damage to them.

With FDA’s approval of the robotic arm’s sale, other prosthetic devices, such as the metal hook, which has been used for several years, may soon be obsolete.

[Images via Makezine / Hub]