The Breakthrough Bionic Arm for Upper Limb Amputees

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In development for nearly a decade, the revolutionary Luke Arm will soon be available. Designed and produced by Segway creator Dean Kamen’s company, DEKA, and funded through the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), Next Step has partnered in the critical fit and testing since the beginning of the project.  Approved by the FDA in 2014, the Luke Arm represents Life Under Kinetic Evolution.

Bionic ArmWhat sets the Luke Arm apart? Simply put, its intuitive integration into the user’s body movements. The human arm and hand with its opposable thumb and five independently articulated fingers, is incredibly complex and capable. The prosthesis uses electrodes placed on the amputated limb (above the elbow or below the elbow) to pick up electrical signals from the user’s muscles. Compared to the typical prosthesis controlled by switches or buttons, or even controlled manually, the Luke Arm is capable of extremely fine as well as flexible movements. What does it feel like for an amputee to be able to reach over their head to pluck an apple from a tree or pick up a heavy piece of equipment, or delicately peel a banana? Now it will be possible for amputees to experience these and many more life experiences that they haven’t been able to since losing their limb.

Kamen’s group even tackled the key reason amputees don’t wear their prosthetic limb – comfort. Unlike the traditional connection method that relies on the greatest possible surface area contact between flesh and the prosthetic arm (causing friction, heat, and pain), Randy Alley, C.P. from Biodesigns, Inc.  in Westlake Village, California, along with assistance from Next Step, developed a socket that was made for the Luke Arm called the Hi Fidelity Interface, this socket is also adaptable to traditional prostheses.

Here are some key attributes of the Luke Arm:

  • Powered shoulder and elbow giving the arm the capability to reach overhead or behind the back, or to lift a full bag of groceries from floor to counter level.
  • An innovative grip-force sensor that can communicate to the user how firmly an item is being grasped, allowing the user to adjust appropriately.
  • Multiple ways to control the arm, including electromyographic (EMG) electrodes or foot-mounted inertial measurement sensors.
  • Protection against water and dust.
  • Complete, integrated system that eliminates any potential compatibility issues between joints or components.

To see the Luke Arm in action, check out this YouTube video. Want to learn more about other advancements in prosthetics? Join our Facebook community, subscribe to our YouTube channel or follow us on Twitter.