Dean Kamen is probably best known for inventing the Segway, the self-balancing electric vehicle that’s equal parts innovative and ridiculous.
Luckily for him (and us), that may soon change. His company, DEKA Research and Development, has created something far cooler: The first Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved, mind-controlled prosthetic limb.
The DEKA arm system (nicknamed “Luke” by DEKA employees, after Luke Skywalker) is controlled by electrodes attached to the arm above the prosthesis. The electrodes detect muscle movements in the upper arm, which are sent to a processor and translated into the wearer’s desired motion.
The prosthetic is the same weight and shape as an adult arm, the FDA said in a statement, and “can convert electrical signals into up to 10 powered movements.”
According to a clinical trial cited by the agency, 90 percent of study participants were able to perform activities with the DEKA arm that they couldn’t do with their current prosthesis, including using keys, locks and zippers, preparing food and feeding themselves.
Fred Downs, the veteran affairs official in charge of prosthetics, demonstrated the DEKA arm for 60 Minutes. “For the first time in 40 years my left hand did this,” he said, making a fist. “It’s such an amazing feeling. I was 23 years old the last time I did that,” he told the outlet.
In a demonstration video, Downs is able to pick up and transfer eggs from one carton to another, thanks to vibration feedback that allows him to 'feel' how tightly he's gripping each shell.
DEKA developed the arm with $40 million in financing from the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and the U.S. Army Research Office, Bloomberg reports.
The FDA’s stamp of approval means DEKA can now find a manufacturer and make the product commercially available, although that may not happen for some time. According to Bloomberg, DEKA is currently looking for a commercial partner to mass market the prosthetic.
For more information about the project, check out the video below.