Segway inventor Dean Kamen and his company DEKA have just secured FDA approval for a mind-controlled prosthetic arm that enables tasks as finely tuned as operating a zipper, opening locks, and wrapping a present.
The DEKA-Arm is the same size and weight as a natural human arm, according to an FDA statement. Affectionately nicknamed "Luke" after Luke Skywalker, the arm detects electrical activity caused by the contraction of muscles close to where the prosthesis is attached. The electrodes send the electrical signals to a computer processor in the prosthesis that translates them to a specific movement or movements. Essentially, the user can think about what he or she wants the prosthetic hands and fingers to do, and it will do them.
"The FDA reviewed clinical information relating to the device, including a 4-site Department of Veterans Affairs study in which 36 DEKA Arm System study participants provided data on how the arm performed in common household and self-care tasks," reads the statement. "The study found that approximately 90% of study participants were able to perform activities with the DEKA Arm System that they were not able to perform with their current prosthesis, such as using keys and locks, preparing food, feeding oneself, using zippers, and brushing and combing hair."
According to DEKA's website, the project was funded by the Department of Defense's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), and is still in development. While the FDA has approved marketing of the device, there's no timeline on its availability to the general public.
Kamen is best known for inventing the gyroscopic scooter that helped define the images of GOB Bluth and George W. Bush alike—but he and DEKA are responsible for an array of world-changing inventions, including the first drug infusion pump and a stair-climbing wheelchair called the iBOT. He also founded FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology), a national instructional program and robotics competition for high school students.