FDA Approves 'Star Wars' Robotic Arm For Amputees
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[May 10, 2014]
By Will Dunham
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Food and
Drug Administration has approved a robotic arm for amputees that is
named for the "Star Wars" character Luke Skywalker and can perform
multiple, simultaneous movements, a huge advance over the metal hook
currently in use.
The FDA said on Friday it allowed the sale of the DEKA Arm System
after reviewing data, including a U.S. Department of Veterans
Affairs study in which 90 percent of people who used the device were
able to perform complex tasks. These included using keys and locks,
feeding themselves, using zippers and brushing and combing hair.
The prosthetic arm was developed by New Hampshire-based DEKA
Research and Development Corp, founded by Dean Kamen, the inventor
of the Segway and other devices.
The Pentagon's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA)
said it provided more than $40 million in funding to DEKA to develop
the robotic arm as part of a $100 million project to improve
prosthetics. "It was designed to produce near-natural upper
extremity control to injured people who have suffered amputations.
This arm system has the same size, weight, shape and grip strength
as an adult's arm would be able to produce," Justin Sanchez, a
program manager in DARPA's biological technologies office, said in a
The FDA said the device is the first prosthetic arm that can carry
out multiple, simultaneous movements controlled by signals from
electromyogram electrodes that detect electrical activity caused as
a person contracts muscles.
The electrodes send signals to a computer processor in the arm,
which can then make up to 10 specific movements using a combination
of switches and sensors.
"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," Christy Foreman,
director of the Office of Device Evaluation at the FDA's Center for
Devices and Radiological Health, said in a statement. The Pentagon's
involvement came about because of the type of injuries sustained by
U.S. troops in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. The Pentagon said more
than 1,800 U.S. service members underwent major limb amputations as
a result of injuries sustained in those wars.
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"This prosthetic limb system can pick up objects as delicate as a
grape, as well be able to handle very rugged tools like a hand
drill," Sanchez said.
Until now, the best technology available to troops and other who
lost an arm was a metal hook, Sanchez said. "The metal hook was the
most commonly used prosthetic device for the last hundred years."
DEKA said on its website that the arm is dubbed "Luke" after Luke
Skywalker, the character whose hand is sliced off in a duel and is
replaced with a robotic version in the 1980 film "The Empire Strikes
The FDA said the robotic arm could be used by people with limb loss
occurring at the shoulder joint, mid-upper arm or mid-lower arm, but
not at the elbow or wrist joint.
In the Veterans Affairs study, 36 people provided data on how the
arm performed in common household and self-care tasks.
(Reporting by Will Dunham. Editing by Andre Grenon)
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