Two retired Army veterans were the lucky recipients of a new Pentagon prosthetic arm developed by Pentagon’s DARPA.
The futuristic arms, named LUKE after Luke Skywalker, can pick up small objects as fragile as an egg. The prosthetics are dubbed LUKE, an acronym for Life Under Kinetic Evolution. Star Wars fans will recall the episode where Luke lost his hand in combat against Darth Vader.
“Stirring with this, I’m cutting with that, dicing,” Fred Downs said, as cited by CBS news. Downs lost his left arm below the elbow after being injured in the Vietnam War.
“It’s the fun part of being able to use two hands to get all the vegetables prepared, and the meat prepared, and start the grill, and hold plates,” he continued.
The veterans showed off their new arms at a veterans’ hospital called the VA New York Harbor Health Care System in New York.
Downs used his new thumb and index finger to peel a banana.
“These may seem like very simple, routine things, but to someone who can’t do it, to be able to be given this function it’s like magic,” said Downs.
The prosthetics are dubbed LUKE, an acronym for Life Under Kinetic Evolution. They were partially named after the Star Wars character Luke Skywalker, who needed a prosthetic arm after fighting Darth Vader.
According to the website of Mobius Bionics, the company that manufactured the limb, LUKE is “configurable for different levels of amputation, including transradial, transhumeral, and shoulder disarticulation.”
According to Russia Today:
FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health approved the LUKE prosthetic back in 2014. Invented by Dean Kamen at DEKA Research, LUKE is “part of a $100 million initiative to revolutionize prosthetics,” according to the DEKA statement.
“Up to this point, design in prosthetic arms has been limited to incremental changes. We developed the LUKE arm to change the game for amputees—creating an innovative, integrated system that offers greater functionality and independence to our wounded warriors and other amputees,” Kamen said back in the summer of 2016.
LUKE Prosthetic Arm DARPA Press Release
According to a DARPA press release:
At a ceremony in New York today, two veterans living with arm amputations became the first recipients of a new generation of prosthetic limb that promises them unprecedented, near-natural arm and hand motion. The modular, battery-powered arms, designed and developed by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), represent the most significant advance in upper extremity prosthetics in more than a century.
The prosthetic “LUKE” arm system—which stands for “Life Under Kinetic Evolution” but is also a passing reference to Luke Skywalker of Star Wars fame, who was endowed with a futuristic bionic arm—enables dexterous arm and hand movement through a simple, intuitive control system. The system allows users to control multiple joints simultaneously and a variety of grips and grip forces by means of wireless signals generated by sensors worn on the feet or via other easy-to-use controllers. Years of testing and optimization in collaboration with the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) led to clearance by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and creation of a commercial-scale manufacturer, Mobius Bionics of Manchester, N.H. More than 100 people living with amputation were involved in initial studies, which led to a product whose natural size, weight, and shape provides unparalleled comfort and ease of use.
At today’s ceremony, held at the VA’s New York Harbor Health Care System Manhattan campus, VA Secretary David Shulkin presented LUKE arms to Fred Downs and Artie McAuley. Downs is a prosthetics consultant for the Paralyzed Veterans of America and retired Chief Procurement and Logistics Officer for the Veterans Health Administration who lost his left arm above the elbow during the Vietnam War. McAuley is an Army veteran whose arm was amputated as the result of an accident while stationed at Fort Drum, N.Y. He went without a prosthesis for years because earlier-generation devices did not work well for individuals whose loss extended all the way up to the shoulder.
“DARPA’s mission within the Defense Department is to make seminal investments in advanced technologies that can have outsized impacts on national security and help those who have stepped up to serve our nation,” said Justin Sanchez, Director of DARPA’s Biological Technologies Office, who manages the Revolutionizing Prosthetics program that developed the LUKE system. “It has been an honor to work side by side with the VA to bring this life-changing technology from concept to capability.” Compared to other commercially available prosthetic arms, the LUKE system has a fully functional, articulated shoulder joint, which offers unprecedented mobility and quality of life even for individuals with total arm loss.
DARPA’s work on prosthetic arms continues today through a range of programs, including one that is providing users a natural sense of touch by means of signals transmitted from mechanical hands directly to the brain, and another that is using signals from the brain’s motor cortex to directly control a robotic limb.