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Innovative Robotic Arm Performs Complex Tasks

By HospiMedica International staff writers
Posted on 27 May 2014
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Image: The DEKA arm holding a grape (Photo courtesy of DARPA – Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency).
Image: The DEKA arm holding a grape (Photo courtesy of DARPA – Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency).
A new prosthetic arm merges biology and engineering to perform multiple, simultaneous powered movements controlled by electromyogram (EMG) electrodes.

The DEKA Arm System is intended to restore functionality for upper extremity amputees occurring at the shoulder joint, mid-upper arm, or mid-lower arm; it cannot be configured for limb loss at the elbow or wrist joint. The battery-powered DEKA is the same shape and weight as an adult arm, and has six user-selectable grips. Inside the system is a combination of mechanisms—including switches, movement sensors, and force sensors—that cause the prosthesis to move in up to 10 powered movements with simultaneous control of multiple joints.

To enable the creation of the arm system, researchers melded various technologies, such as miniaturization of parts for motors, computer controls, and sensors, and manufacturing processes with lightweight, but strong materials. A variety of input devices is used, including wireless signals generated by sensors on the user’s feet. Other sensors in the hand section provide feedback on grip strength, allowing the DEKA arm to handle objects as delicate as grapes and eggs, but also operate power tools, such as a hand drill.

The DEKA Arm System is a project of DEKA Integrated Solutions (Manchester, NH, USA), and was funded by the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA; Arlington, VA, USA). The system, which has been dubbed “Luke” by its developers (after Star Wars protagonist Luke Skywalker), has been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA, Silver Spring, MD, USA).

“This innovative prosthesis provides a new option for people with certain kinds of arm amputations,” said Christy Foreman, director of the office of device evaluation at the FDA Center for Devices and Radiological Health (CDRH). “The DEKA Arm System may allow some people to perform more complex tasks than they can with current prostheses in a way that more closely resembles the natural motion of the arm.”

Related Links:

DEKA Integrated Solutions
US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA)
US Food and Drug Administration 

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