The DEKA Arm prosthetic device, which interprets electrical signals from muscle contractions to mimic the actions of a real arm, has been approved for sale in the United States.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced the news on Friday, noting that the DEKA Arm had gone from an idea to functional product in less than eight years. It comes from DEKA Research and Development Corp, a New Hampshire-based company founded by Segway inventor Dean Kamen.
Many amputees still use a metal hook attachment to help them perform everyday tasks, but the DEKA Arm represents an incredible leap forward. It’s the first to perform multiple simultaneous actions based on signals from the connected tissue, and it can relay information about strength back to the wearer—allowing him or her to, say, pick up a small grape without accidentally crushing it.
The project has been heavily funded by the U.S. Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), which poured more than US$40 million into it. According to the FDA, about 90% of those studied wearing the arm were able to perform more complex tasks than with a hook attachment, such as using zippers or combing their hair.
The DEKA Arm is affectionately referred to as “Luke,” based on a certain iconic moment from The Empire Strikes Back, which is one of the best Star Wars references we’ve ever heard. With FDA approval, the DEKA Arm can now be manufactured and sold commercially, though there’s no word yet on how quickly it will become available to those who may benefit from its advancements.