February 22, 2008 A team led by the Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) at Johns Hopkins University has received a contract from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to complete development of a prosthetic arm that will look, feel and perform like a natural limb.

The funding forms Phase 2 of DARPA’s Revolutionizing Prosthetics 2009 program, aimed at providing the most advanced medical and rehabilitative technologies for military personnel injured in the line of duty. Phase 1 of the project saw a team of around 30 organizations, led by APL, develop two prototypes. The first prototype, presented to DARPA less than a year after the project started, is a fully integrated prosthetic arm that can be controlled naturally, provide sensory feedback and allows for eight degrees of freedom. This level of control is far beyond that of the current state of the art for prosthetic limbs that generally only allow for three degrees of freedom of movement. The Proto 1 limb system also includes a virtual environment used for patient training, clinical configuration, and to record limb movements and control signals during clinical investigations.

A second prototype was delivered in August 2007 and incorporates 25 individual joints that approach the natural speed and range of motion of the human limb. These mechanical limb systems are complemented by a range of emerging neural integration strategies that promise to restore near-natural control and important sensory feedback capabilities. The announcement of Phase 2 funding means the team can continue its important work to integrate the promising technologies from Phase 1 into a viable, high dexterity limb system that will achieve DARPA’s goals. The team hopes to have the full arm system ready for regulatory clearance within two years.

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