Dean Kamen's DEKA Arm is an electronic prosthetic that mimics natural arm and hand movement with an amazing level of finesse. It's controlled by electrical signals from the wearer's muscles. This week, the DEKA Arm became the first muscle-controlled prosthetic approved by the FDA for sale to the general public.
The user controls the DEKA arm by contracting different muscles in the arm or foot. Electromyogram sensors pick up the electrical signal from the wearer's muscles and translate them into any of 10 different complex, multi-joint powered movements. The entire assembly is the same size and weight as a natural limb, and the battery-powered prosthesis offers six different hand grips.
Watch the DEKA Arm in action, performing the type of household tasks that require delicate manoeuvres and varying levels of grip:
The DEKA Arm, developed by Segway inventor Dean Kamen with funding from DARPA, took eight years to go from concept to approval. That's pretty quick considering the traditional "split hook" arm prosthesis has been in use since 1912. The DEKA Arm can be customised for limb loss at the shoulder, mid-bicep, or mid-forearm, though it can't be fitted for amputations at the elbow or wrist.
In the FDA study, 90 per cent of test subjects were able to quickly adapt to using the DEKA Arm for tasks that were impossible with traditional arm prosthetics, like brushing hair and using keys and zippers.