A couple of U.S. military amputees may soon get a new type of bionic arm developed with funding from the Pentagon’s research arm.
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, better known as DARPA, recently delivered the first two “LUKE” arms to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, outside Washington, D.C., according to an announcement.
The name stands for Life Under Kinetic Evolution, according to the release, but also pays homage to the “Stars Wars” character Luke Skywalker, who receives a robotic hand after losing his own in a lightsaber duel. Yet with its clear translucent plastic hand and silver arm, the “LUKE” limb looks more like those from the robots in the “I, Robot” film.
In a presentation ceremony at Walter Reed, Justin Sanchez, director of DARPA’s Biological Technologies Office, described the technology as “the world’s most advanced prosthetic arm system,” according to video of the ceremony. “It’s a remarkable device,” he said.
Dr. Jeffrey Bailey, an Army colonel and director of surgery at Walter Reed added, “This is a very important day in delivering this type of technology to support the ability of folks who are injured serving their country to go back to doing what they want to do.”
A hospital spokesman said it’s not yet clear which service members or veterans will be the first recipients of the devices or when they might receive them.
The battery-powered prosthetic weighs about the same as a natural arm and features six types of grips that can be controlled by multiple inputs — even wireless signals from sensors worn on a user’s feet, according to the DARPA release.
The technology was developed by DEKA Integrated Solutions Corp., of Manchester, New Hampshire, through DARPA’s Revolutionizing Prosthetics program and is being marketed by a company called Mobius Bionics LLC, of the same city.
The system, which has already received approval from the Food and Drug Administration, is modular and comes in three configurations, depending on what part of the limb is missing: shoulder, humeral and radial.
Jay Burkholder, a spokesman for Mobius Bionics, didn’t specify how much the technology costs, but said a few dozen have already been built and the manufacturing process is designed to scale.
Parts of the devices are built in a facility in Rochester, New York, with final assembly in Manchester, he said during a telephone interview with Military.com.
“While the quantity already manufactured is fairly small, the supply chain is established to be able to support growing demand as commercial use increases,” he said in a follow up email. “We are looking forward to providing the most advanced prosthetic arm system to all upper-limb amputees, both military and civilian.”