DARPA-developed next-generation bionic arm hits the market

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The LUKE arm will become available from medical providers later this year(Credit: Mobius Bionics)

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The next generation in prosthetic arms will soon be helping amputees get a grip in the real world. The LUKE arm, which was previously known as the Deka Arm, was developed under DARPA's Revolutionizing Prosthetics program by DEKA Research & Development Corp. It received marketing approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2014 and is now set to hit the market later this year.

As we've reported previously, the DEKA arm is the first prosthetic arm set approved for commercial markets that translates signals from a patient's muscles into complex motions. Rechristened the LUKE (Life Under Kinetic Evolution) arm by medical device maker Mobius Bionics, which will bring it to market with Universal Instruments Corporation as contract manufacturer, the prosthetic will be the first in a new product category for integrated prosthetic arms.

The LUKE arm's central control technology, whereby electromyogram (EMG) electrodes are used to pick up electrical signals from the patient's muscles, has been around for decades. The key innovation is just how much movement, control and strength the new system is able to translate from those signals to the arm which boasts up to 10 powered degrees of freedom.

According to Mobius Bionics, the LUKE arm will deliver a number of new capabilities to amputees, including a powered shoulder joint that can reach overhead or behind the back; an elbow strong enough to lift a bag of groceries from floor to tabletop; a wrist with enough range of motion and fine dexterity to hold a glass of water overhead or at waist level without spilling; and a complex hand with four motors that can hold heavy items and delicate ones like an egg without dropping or breaking either.

The system has a sensor that also returns "grip-force" information back to the patient, giving feedback about how firmly something is being grasped. Another new innovation is the use of foot-mounted inertial measurement sensors connected wirelessly to the arm that offer an alternative means of control.

The goal of an advanced upper limb prosthetic with near natural control is something DARPA began working on a decade ago. The LUKE arm is the result of years of research and development by DARPA, the U.S. Veterans Administration and private companies, including over 10,000 hours of testing involving nearly 100 amputees.

Mobius Bionics is now accepting names of people interested in owning one of the first LUKE arms.

The original DEKA arm is demonstrated in the video below.

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