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  • 02.09.11

DARPA’s Mind-Controlled Prosthetic Arm Could Be on the Market in Four Years

Finally, laypeople will benefit from DARPA’s mad scientist projects. Watch how the $100 million arm–which restores almost complete hand and finger function to patients dealing with spinal cord injury, stroke or amputation–works.

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DARPA robotic arm

Finally, laypeople will benefit from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s (DARPA) mad scientist projects (see: thinking cameras and flying Humvees). As part of its just-announced Innovation Pathway, a priority review program for breakthrough medical devices, the FDA will fast-track the review of DARPA’s mind-controlled robotic arm.

The arm, which was developed at a cost of over $100 million by DARPA and Johns Hopkins University over the past five years, is controlled by a microchip in the brain. The microchip records neuron activity and decodes the signals to activate motor neurons that control
the prosthetic.

DARPA’s prosthetic works much like a regular arm, with the ability to bend, rotate, and twist in 27 different ways. It is designed to restore almost complete hand and finger function to patients dealing with spinal cord injury, stroke, or amputation.

Now that the arm has been expedited through the FDA’s program, Johns Hopkins will implant its microchips in five patients and monitor them for a year. There are few safety concerns, but the university anticipates issues with maintaining chip quality over time, according to the Los Angeles Times. If all goes well, the arm could be on the market in just four to five years.

Check out the arm in the video below.

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Follow Fast Company on Twitter. Ariel Schwartz can be reached by email.

About the author

Ariel Schwartz is a Senior Editor at Co.Exist. She has contributed to SF Weekly, Popular Science, Inhabitat, Greenbiz, NBC Bay Area, GOOD Magazine and more.

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